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Sunday, November 16, 2014

A lame mans testimony - Acts 14:8-20

Preached at the all age service 15 Nov 2014


This all happened a very long time ago.


We live in the middle of nowhere, well just outside the middle of nowhere actually. We live here because it's a retirement home for old generals. My dad was a general – legatei is our word, and we moved around the empire when I was a kid, but when he got too old to serve they sent us here. Now we live on a huge estate just outside the city of Lystra. Well they call it a city, but I've seen real cities. Anyway you know it as Kistraii its in the province of Galatia – an area you call Turkey.


You can tell its the back of beyond – they even have their own language, they understand Latin – when they want to, but they choose not to speak it. We've been here long enough now to have learnt the basics of Lyconian, but we still speak Latin at home.

Condition and lack of cure

You should know that when I was born my ankles were not formed properly, so I never learnt to walk. I'm OK now though, and that's what I'm going to tell you about today.
My brothers had to carry me everywhere, and if it hadn't been for my mum I'd probably have been dead before I'd got old enough to have a story to tell. All I ever wanted to do as a child was run with my brothers, and though I was more accepting by that time I still really wanted to be normal. Mum had taken me everywhere – to all sorts of doctors, priests of who knows what religions, representatives of every local god in every place we stopped – all I got out of it was pain, nothing ever made my ankles work. It was all mumbo jumbo and never made any sense. Somehow we had upset the gods and they had to be paid some price to calm them down, then I would get better, but like I said – all I got was pain.

Jews from Iconium

One day we heard that some Jews had come from Iconium. It's 20 miles north, and not an easy journey. There are hardly any Jews here, so we didn't know why they'd come, but mum would never miss an opportunity, so my brothers hauled me down to the square in the centre of the city and we sat and listened to them.

Odd couple

They were an odd couple, one was tall and looked like he was a prince, he didn't say much. The other was short and stocky with a bald head and spoke to the people. Once you started to listen you were hooked – at least I was. A lot of the locals had stopped to listen. He was talking about one God, one god to rule them all. Just like all the others this God was angry about the way we behaved, but unlike all the others He had done something about it.

Stand up

I was paying close attention to everything he said, almost getting lost in it. I noticed that he kept looking at me. He spent more and more time facing in my direction. Then he stared right at me and said “Stand up on your feet”. My brothers and the crowd must have though he was mad, but I just obeyed, once I was up the world was different, I started to walk around. I was rather hesitant at first, but both my feet were pointing in the right direction and my ankles were holding my weight. I felt like jumping up and down and running around, but I didn't know how to do either yet.

Gods have come

I was even more surprised when the locals started shouting “The gods have come down to us in human form”. They began to repeat it like a chant.
“The gods have come down to us in human form”
“The gods have come down to us in human form”
Then the penny dropped. They really believed the old legend.

Lycaonian Legend

They had a story that said a long time ago Zeus – the king of the gods in heaven, and Hermes – the messenger, had come down from heaven disguised as humans to visit them. They had gone from house to house looking for a place to stay, but everywhere they went they were turned away. They kept going, and they kept being turned away. They had visited a thousand households when, nearly out of town they came upon an old couple who welcomed them in, and even though they had almost nothing, provided Zeus and Hermes with a meal and a place to stay. As a reward, they were the only people left after the gods flooded the valley, and their house was transformed into a marble pillared, gold roofed temple, and the old couple became their priests.

Sacrifice, Party

So that was it, this time they were determined not to be caught out like their ancestors had been. There was a temple to Zeus just outside the city so the priests rushed to it and brought back a bull, and they were prepared to sacrifice and provide a feast for all present. These guys really do know how to put on a party – loads of food, loads of wine, and loads of questionable behaviour. They would have the square decorated in minutes, and a fire built, and the bull sacrificed as Barnabas' feet.

Paul realises what's happening

It took Paul a while to realise what was going on, he had finished speaking, because after my miracle – wow that still sounds good - “my miracle” the crowd had been too distracted to hear any more. So Paul and Barnabas had gone to the house they were staying in. Someone had asked them to come out again for the sacrifice, I supposed.

Tearing Cloths

Anyway, they both ran out of the house tearing their cloths. That's a strange thing to do – but then Jews have their strange customs just like everybody else. Why would you tear your clothes? Specially when you're travelling in the only clothes you own? I found out later that it means they are very upset about what is happening, and they think it will offend God. Paul said that only God should be worshipped, and that men and women should never be worshipped.

Paul's Speech

So Paul shouted at them at the top of his voice
“Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
Well, it was only a few words, but it seemed to get through to them. They wanted their party, they wanted an excuse to feast, but once they are told the reason for the party is not the right reason they slowly went home, and the bull lived to be sacrificed another day.

Jews causing trouble

Just as it was all quieting down some more strangers appeared. They said they had come from Iconium and that some of them had come from Antioch – now that's a real city. Then the arguments really started – I think you say 'It all kicked off'. There were people shouting and fighting and arguing for ages. I didn't understand it all so I mostly just stood (just stood, what a pleasure it was to just stand).
Then the crowd turned, as only crowds can do, and picked up stones and started throwing them at Paul. This wasn't a proper stoning. There are places set aside when a proper stoning is done, places where you can't hit the wrong people with your stones, and where the stones are big enough to cause death reasonably quickly. Here they just grabbed whatever they could find and threw it as hard as they could. He took a lot of stones to the head and pretty much everywhere else. There was nothing we could do. He stood there taking it for a while, then suddenly just collapsed on the ground.

Reaction to Paul's death

I was shocked and very upset that the man who had healed me was dead so quickly, before I had even got to hear what he had to say. Some of the men dragged his body out of the city.
Barnabas and the others who had come with Paul followed them. A few of the crowd followed as well, I walked slowly behind them.

Prayer for Paul

They surrounded his body and were silent for what seemed like an age, then another miracle happened. Paul wasn't dead, just unconscious, now, slowly he got up. Then another miracle happened Paul and the others and the few from the city walked back into the city. That was real bravery. I hoped the crowd had dispersed, or it was likely they would have another go at him.

Paul and Barnabas leave

The next day they all left. You could see that Paul was not walking right, as he went. His determination to tell people about his God and about Jesus, the Christ was amazing.


One of the people who followed Paul's friends out to where he was dumped was Timothy – he was about my age, and when they had gone he gathered us all together to talk and pray about the things we had heard and seen. We began to meet regularly to worship the God who loves us so much that He sent his son as a sacrifice for us. The God who was angry at us for our behaviour, but solved the problem for us because we can't do it for ourselves. The God who gives us the Holy Spirit to connect with us and gives us insight and courage in the face of all sorts of problems. He encouraged us to start building a church, and that is what I have been doing for the last 25 years. In that time hundreds of people have joined us.

Paul and Barnabas back

A few months later we saw Paul and Barnabas again retracing their steps. Paul still wasn't walking right. This time, when they left, Timothy left with them. You may know of Timothy – he's the Bishop of Ephesus now, and Paul wrote to him reminding him of the troubles he had here and how God had rescued him from all of them.


So that's my story, that's how I came to know Jesus as my Lord and saviour.
Its been a struggle here, building the church, there is still plenty of opposition, the people in the temple of Zeus don't like us and take every opportunity to remind us of what happened. We're OK, we have Jesus, and we have Paul's example of bravery and determination to copy.
That's pretty much what I told Luke a few years back, but I guess he will cut it down a bit when he writes his book.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Forgive, and forgive again - Matthew 18:21-35 - 2 Nov 22014


Show video
2.3 billion dollars, that's about 1.5 billion pounds.  About the same as the EU says Britain owes – a truly huge sum of money.  The actual number is not the point, but just so that we get an understanding: a Talent is a measure of mass, in New Testament times it was equivalent to 58.9 kilograms (130lb)1. In monetary terms we are probably talking of Silver, rather than Gold.  So that is 589, 000 kg of silver @ 36p a gram2 = £212,040,000.  That's my calculation, but the point is that it is a debt I can't repay.  The debt the man refuse to forgive is just 100 days wages – whatever you earn that is payable over time.

Forgiveness – Background

The parable though is not about debt, it is about forgiveness.  The point is that as we are forgiven, so we should forgive.  Jesus is responding to Peters question asking how many times he should forgive a brother who sins against him.  It follows directly on from Jesus' instructions for dispute resolution that we heard Sue Mann talk to us about last week.
Peter comes to Jesus and asks “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? And the adds “Up to seven times?”. 

Peter is Learning

Peter demonstrates that he is learning by asking the question the way he does.  It was the common teaching of the rabbis that you should forgive three times.  Peter, knowing that Jesus extends things and expects better of His disciples than the religious leaders expect of the people, has already extended the limit to the number of times he should forgive.  Seven is not enough though.  Jesus suggests that 70 times 7 would be more appropriate.  So start counting.  See how far you get.  You may get to 7, 10, 12, but soon you will loose count, and by then the habit will be established.

Message of the Parable

The message of the parable is very simple: Forgive, because you have been forgiven something much greater. Fail to forgive and be set up for judgement.
Are we serious about forgiveness?
3There was a man who really loved dogs. He devoted his life to them ­ he read about them, studied them, and even gave talks about them to other dog lovers. One day he decided to lay a new path in front of his house. His neighbour watched from his window as he smoothed out the last square foot of cement.
Just then, a large dog appeared and walked through the fresh cement, leaving paw prints behind. The man muttered something under his breath and smoothed out the damage.
He then went inside to get some twine so he could put up a fence around the path. But, when he got back outside, he discovered some more dog tracks in his fresh cement. He smoothed out the cement and put up the fence.
He then went into the house. Five minutes later he looked outside and saw some more paw prints. He was really mad now. He got out his trowel and smoothed the cement one more time. As he got back to his porch, the dog reappeared and sat right in the middle of the path.
He went inside, grabbed his gun and shot the dog dead. The neighbour rushed over and said, “Why did you do that? I thought you loved dogs.” The man thought for a minute and said, “I do, I do like dogs. But that’s in the abstract. I hate dogs in the concrete.”
Forgiveness is a great idea in the abstract, but this morning we are going to look at it in the concrete.

What is forgiveness?

It is clear that Jesus says we should forgive and continue to forgive.  It's easy to say that you've forgiven someone, but true forgiveness is difficult and costly. 
If you have truly forgiven someone – lets say it is a close friend, or family member – then the relationship is restored to exactly the way it was before the hurt occurred.  It is more than avoiding them – that is not forgiveness at all. It is more than simply ignoring them or being polite but distant.  Neither of those approaches are really forgiveness.  If you were pleased to see them and wanted the best for them before the incident, then that is how the relationship must work after it if you have forgiven them. 
Take a minute to think about a time when you have been hurt by someone you love – really hurt.
How is that relationship now – does it work the same way it did before?
I remember that Tom Loh preached on forgiveness at Come Together and posed a similar question.  I thought about it – and missed some of the rest of his sermon.  I think I have only every really practiced forgiveness properly once.

Our forgivenness and its Cost

We are forgiven by our Father God.
Isaiah 43:25 “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.
Micah 7:9 You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
When we first decided to follow Jesus we were probably asked to say a prayer confessing our sins this is Billy Graham's4 version:
Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for Your forgiveness. I believe You died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite You to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as my Lord and Saviour. In Your Name.
If it is said sincerely, then our offences before God are forgiven and we can become part of the family of God.  It doesn't stop us sinning – which is offending God – so we continually have to return to that prayer, or something similar – and confess our sins.  That is the reason that we say the confession near the start of each service.
God's forgiveness is greater than ours – He can forget our sins, that is something that we cannot do when we are sinned against.
God's forgiveness is costly, it cost Jesus his life, as it says in 1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
Our forgiveness also has a cost.  Aside from the efforts of reconciliation that we must make to put things right – the things we heard about last week – there is also the hurt that must be put to one side.

Dangers of Unforgiveness

Whatever has happened cannot be changed.  If we are to forgive and move on we must avoid the three 'R's

Revenge ­ “I’m going to get even!”

Revenge says “I'm going to get even”.  Far from making things better this is an escalation.  Getting even rarely ends in even, in fact it rarely ends.  Your attempts to repay in kind for your hurt will always cause greater hurt than you received.  The likely outcome is that further revenge will be visited on you, and so the cycle of escalation will continue.  This is where blood feuds come from, as the hurt is passed from parent to child and so on down the years.

Resentment ­ “I’m going to stay angry!”

Resentment says “I'm going to stay angry”.  Prolonged anger is bad for you physically, mentally and spiritually.  The only person who suffers with this approach is you.  Your anger becomes a focus of life for you, to the exclusion of all else.  Everyone else in the world has moved on, soon no-one will understand why you are angry – even if you spend a lot of time telling them.  You will end up as bitter and resentful – and nothing will have changed.

Remembering ­ “I’ll never forget!”

Remembering says “I'll never forget”.
Hillary Clinton said “In the Bible it says they asked Jesus how many times you should forgive, and he said 70 times 7. Well, I want you all to know that I'm keeping a chart.”
I have no idea of the context, whether it was about Bill, or whether it was meant as a joke – I hope it was.
For a while forgetting is hard, and refreshing the memory is easy, but it should soon become less so – otherwise you will end up living in the past and today will become irrelevant.

Benefits for Forgiveness

Avoiding the three 'R's means that the hurt we have suffered is not amplified and reinforced by our own attitudes.  Falling for the three 'R's – Revenge, Resentment, Remembering leads us away from peace and damages our life.
Lewis Smedes said “When I genuinely forgive, I set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner I set free was me.”
When I fail to forgive it is me that suffers, it follows that when I genuinely forgive, it is me that benefits.

There is nothing that should not be forgiven

C.S. Lewis has said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
Not only are there no limits to the number of times we are forgiven, there are no limits to the things we should forgive.

Continue to forgive

Jesus has given the disciples this message before, back in Matthew 6:15, after teaching them how to pray He says:
“For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Many times when I speak to you it is difficult to understand exactly what the scripture is trying to say, this morning it is crystal clear.  If we call ourselves Christian there is no excuse not to forgive, and that is the only way we will continue to be forgiven by our Father.  Paul has the same message for the Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Forgiving is hard

Indira Gandhi said “Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave”.  That certainly put forgiveness at the top of the list of list of the things we should be doing in our lives. It also recognises that forgiving is hard, Jesus as always goes further and asks us to be prepared to be brave and repeat the exercise time and again. 
That I cannot do without His help.  So lets pray for His help – that the Holy Spirit will prompt us to be forgiving, and give us the strength to carry it out.

Final Prayer

5Father, Your Word tells us that if we forgive those who have sinned against us, then You, our Heavenly Father, will forgive us.  But, if we refuse to forgive others, You will not forgive us of our sins.  Today we choose to forgive. Father, we declare that we will be patient with people and forgive those who have offended us.   I forgive                for                           , and I release them and let it go.  Father, forgive me for my sins.  You said that if I confess my sins to You, You are faithful and just to forgive me and cleanse me from all wickedness.  Therefore, Father, please forgive me for _________________.



Sunday, October 05, 2014

Seeing Jesus Differently - Matthew 17:22-27


As we continue our wanderings through Matthew we have come to this fascinating little passage about the temple tax. After the Transfiguration Jesus and the disciples were making there way back to base, on their way they have healed a demon possessed boy, and now they have arrived and there to great them is the tax collector.


I expect most of you have come across tithing – we talk about it often enough, but I wonder if you have heard of the temple tax before. So, in case you don't know about the temple tax I will give you some background in a minute.
You may also be aware that Jesus appears to have views on taxation that are a little bit different to those he expresses here. That story is a few chapters further on in Chapter 22. Jesus is asked about paying taxes to the Romans in one of those entrapment questions that the religious leaders of the time were so fond of. He surprised them all, as he usually did, when he said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” There doesn't seem to be any concerns about paying taxes to the Roman authorities, yet here paying taxes to the temple seems to be a bit of an issue. Of course you may say that they weren't asking Jesus to pay the tax, but he isn't one who has one rule for himself and another for those around Him. So we should try to understand what is going on here too.


Then there's the statement about paying the tax so as not to give offense. Jesus usually seems to 'tell it like it is'. Only a few pages back he called Peter 'Satan', and since then has gone back to using his old name of Simon – that must have given offense. He is more than willing to put the religious leaders in their place, take the start of chapter 23 as an example:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
How could that not cause offense?

Missing Verse?

These things make the passage interesting, but for me there is one thing that makes it absolutely fascinating, and its not even in the passage. Why is there no verse 28? After a story like this I would expect a conclusion, but it is unfinished. Does that mean that Peter didn't go fishing that day and the temple tax was never paid and so offense was given? Or is it a test of the readers faith, should we just accept, by faith, as some preachers suggest that it happened exactly as Jesus said it would. We will see – but the Bible is not usually quiet about prophesies being fulfilled. Perhaps Jesus instructions are some sort of coded message to Peter and Matthew didn't know what was meant. Perhaps its is a metaphorical suggestion that Peter should pay the taxes out of his earnings – he is a fisherman, so go fishing – that will make you the money you need. During my preparation I have read sermons that suggest all of these things, and have also read suggestions that this never happened but was inserted by the author for other purposes. I don't like to treat scripture like that – as soon as the explanations start to get complicated and require us to read something into the story I begin to look for a more straight forward explanation.
What do you think – did the tax get paid or not?
Scripture does not tell us one way or the other.


Tax is always raised for something. Even if you don't agree with the thing the money is being used for you generally still pay the tax.
Wernher von Braun said “There is just one thing I can promise you about the outer-space program – your tax-dollar will go further.”
The temple tax was there to support the temple – not the people in it, just the buildings and so on. Thankfully we don't raise a tax to support our buildings, if we did it would have to increase, but I digress.
The temple tax pre-dates the temple. It had been around for a much longer time. It is first recorded in Exodus 30:13 where the census is being described.
Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the LORD.”
In Exodus it was use to support the Tabernacle – the tent that the Israelites took with them that was later replaced by the temple.
So the temple tax is a poll tax, by Jesus time it was paid annually by each male of 20 years or more. During its history the tax has varied in amount, but has never been a huge. In Jesus time it was set at 2 days wages for a labourer. Taking the October 2014 minimum wage for a twenty-one year old and assuming an eight hour day that is £204.
Given the English attitude to a poll tax – most of us remember the Community Charge and the public reaction to it in 1990 – riots in the streets. You might think that this tax would be unpopular. The English are not like the Jews. In Jesus time it was collected by Jews all over the empire and there are reports of armed guards taking the collection from Rome to Jerusalem. Even when the Romans banned the removal of Gold from Rome, the Jews still paid the temple tax. It was what you did if you were a good Jew at that time.
Assuming that, it seems strange that the tax collector would ask “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”. There is some suggestion that not all the Jews in Palestine paid the tax, some groups (or sects) did not pay. It is also worth noting that the question is not always phrased in the negative – it depends which translation you read.
As Adam Hart-Davis told us “tax doesn't have to be taxing”, so that's enough on the temple tax for now.
There are other mysteries to look at and try to understand.

Detailed look at the passage

Matthew Only

As I start to look at a passage in a little more depth, one of the first things that I do is to find similar passages in other parts of the Bible. That is no help to me here. This story is unique to Matthew.

How did Jesus know?

Following on from the tax question we have another conundrum. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. He asks Peter who pays taxes. How does Jesus know of the conversation that Peter has just been involved in. Again there are a number of possibilities:
  1. It may have been revealed to Him supernaturally. We know this is possible, but there are other possibilities
  2. He may have overheard the conversation, or snippets of it at least. First century houses in Palestine did not have windows to block out the sound, if the conversation took place immediately outside the house it is possible that Jesus heard.
  3. Jesus may just have been expecting it – the tax was collected at the same time every year.
I'm always reluctant to choose a supernatural explanation, if a reasonable alternative can be found, but for me on this occasion I think it is most likely a combination of the first and the third. The reason for my choice of explanation is that the Amplified version has “when Peter came home”, which suggests he may have been further away that just outside. Either translation is acceptable. And that's it as far as evidence goes.
So lets move on to something more important.

Jesus is exempt from the Tax

Lets look at the details of the conversation with Peter:
"What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes q —from their own sons or from others?”
Mt 17:26 “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,”
Clearly it would be a nonsense for a King or Queen to tax their own children – families do not work like that, so Jesus is showing Peter that, as the Son of God, He does not have to pay the tax. After all it was Peter who first recognized Jesus as the Son of God. That is recorded back in chapter 16, so Jesus is still busy teaching the disciples and reinforcing the lessons they are learning.
We are now in the same position as Jesus, because we are adopted sons and daughters because of what Jesus has done for all of us. No tax NEEDS paying to maintain the temple because ultimately we are all the same family.

Go fishing

Then we have this final statement from Jesus:
But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
… and we are back at this very strange sentence. Jesus does not want to offend the collectors of the temple tax. He advises Peter to go fishing with a line rather than a net, this is the only place in the New Testament where line fishing is suggested.

What is really happening?

So what is really going on here. The best explanation I found was in Tom Wright's commentary “Matthew for Everyone”. To see what is happening we must take a step back from the detailed events we have been looking at and see the big picture.
Jesus is on a mission. He has come from Heaven to Earth and is in the process of training his successors. The first two verses we had read this morning show this
When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief.
Through His death and resurrection Jesus pays the price for our sins and makes a way for us back to God. This is the plan that makes us the adopted children who do not have to pay the temple tax. He is busy on the latter stages of that training, and He is preparing himself for a visit to Jerusalem where he will visibly and actively threaten the life of the temple. Now is not the time to make a scene. Now is not the time to upset a small time tax collector and bring the attention of the temple authorities on him. Tom Wright says that “The point of the story isn't that Jesus had the power to make a coin appear in the mouth of a fish, … nor is it that Jesus is simply a good citizen finding ways of paying the necessary taxes. The point is that He was a master strategist. He was himself, as he told His disciples to be” as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
That was a eureka moment for me. At last there was an explanation of why the story was there and it meaning. It provides us with the model of how to behave when we are planning to bring the message of Jesus to the wider world.
So did Peter go fishing with a line – well scripture doesn't say, and now I know the story's true meaning it doesn't bother me that much, so you can decide for yourself, but I can assure you that the tax was paid, because Jesus was following the model he had devised for his mission, which goes something like:
Make your plans, keep your council, don't cause offense or bring attention to yourself until you are ready. Then go and transform the world.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Linvoy Primus at Forging Men

Now being a part of the organizing group, I arrived very early for the Linvoy Primus event.  I spent the first part of the evening getting my parts of the technology working and putting out chairs.  I spent the last part of the evening putting chairs away - there should be a specific ministry for chairs by now surely. 
The Forge had done a great job with the Man Sized Buffet.  I watched it being put out, and began to feel hungry.  People slowly began to arrive.  We had had a difficult time getting tickets sold, so I was wondering how many would turn up.  In the end it was around 48, although none of us counted, I am going by the vacant seats.

I have only a superficial interest in football.  If it hadn't been for my sons I would not have known that Linvoy Primus had been a Portsmouth player.  Then finding he had played in the Premiership I was wondering what to expect.  Premiership players are all grossly overpaid prima donnas aren't they?  I could hardly have been more wrong.  Linvoy arrived with a couple of friends from the days before he was a professional footballer.  He says that he is just an ordinary person whose job is playing football - that is exactly how he comes across.

We have had a number of talks from guys who have experienced the miraculous.  They have amazing stories of Gods providence, and miracles that delayed their arrival in heaven.  I love listening to the stories - present day miracles are important.  So that we can still see God working the way He always has.  BUT - they do not help me in my situation, neither do they help me to relate to what the speakers were going through - I have never experienced anything like it.

Linvoy was different, he talked about his career, the pressures, the disappointments and the successes.  He talked about the stresses and difficulties that he faced, and how his faith in the Lord Jesus helped him to get through the situations he was in.  He talked about the pressures he came under when he first believed and how his faith has slowly spread to others in the game.  His heart is dedicated to sharing his faith and he uses his fame to do just that.  He has been called 'the nicest bloke in football' apparently.  From what I saw, I could easily believe that was true. He stayed behind after his talk to chat to people until we had finished clearing up and the staff were expecting us to leave.

I enjoyed the evening very much,  I think he was the best speaker I have heard at Forging Men.  He made all the difficulties with planning worthwhile.

The Brentwood Gazette also covered the story, they interviewed Linvoy before the evening and the CVM guys e-mailed them photos.  As usual they did a good spread, sadly there doesn't appear to be anything on-line.

I had a great evening and would recommend that you hear Linvoy speak if you can.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The World is not Enough - Matthew 16:21-28


I've been struck by what John Carr has said about the Gospels. “The Gospels were written so that you may believe”. So I started thinking about what it is in this passage that helps us to believe in Jesus. I think part of the answer is Peter. The gospel characters are very well portrayed, if we read the gospels in larger chunks than just the small reading we had this morning, it doesn't take long before we get a pretty good idea of what each of the main disciples are like. Peter is impetuous, he acts before he thinks, and he responds without thinking through what he is saying. There is nothing malicious in him, and he clearly has a great love for Jesus. That's why he responds like he does.
A couple of weeks ago we heard Jesus ask his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15). I wonder if there was a long pause as they all wondered what their teacher expected them to say. It was Peter who broke the silence. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” and Jesus' reply is one of warm congratulation and reward: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
How did Peter feel after that? He is told that he is blessed, given a new name, and entrusted with the future mission of the group.

Up a Level

As a result of this Jesus decides that they have come far enough for him to be teaching them at the next level.
I overheard a conversation on the bus on Friday. Two girls from Mayflower comparing notes on their new classes. “She's, like, taken it to the next level, she's speaking Spanish as soon as we get in the room and the tasks are all written up in Spanish, and some of the words we don't even know ...”, and so it went on.
When a teacher thinks you have mastered a certain amount they start with the more difficult teachings and it can be hard to adjust.
That is what has happened here. The passage we had read to us starts “From that time on ...”. Now Jesus will be speaking clearly about what must happen. He's here on a mission to rescue humanity. If the mission is to succeed He must die on a cross. Then on the third day he will rise to life.
It's all too much for Peter, much too big a step forward. He can't cope. God had revealed to Peter who Jesus was, but the enormity of it was too much to take in. How could his friend, his leader, the person he had left his home to follow, the person he had been with and relied upon for two years, suddenly be speaking of his death. No, that can't be right! Jesus, you must to be mistaken. This is not how it goes for the person I have come to know, there is so much still to do, so many people still to heal, so many people still to convince, we've hardly started!
What comes out probably doesn't do justice to his thoughts: “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
And Jesus' retort is perhaps the biggest, hardest put down in History: “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 has gone from the greatest hero, to nothing, to worse than nothing. From the closest friend to the greatest enemy, in the space of almost no time at all.

Ups & downs

Well life certainly has it's ups and downs.
We've had our own ups and downs recently as we've heard the news that Warner will be leaving us, then last week the church was full as we and people from the other churches, and various organizations around town came to say our goodbyes.
What a great service it was! – and what a sad occasion.
Perhaps some of us still haven't really accepted what has happened, is was all too quick for us to get an understanding of what the church will be like without him.

Hard Teaching

Jesus didn't give Peter any time to come to terms with his failure, He just launched straight into more teaching. Here we have another reason the gospels help us to believe – they teach us the reality of following Jesus. It is not sugar coated in any way – straight forward truths, but some are hard to bear.
This is most certainly on another level compared to what the disciples have seen until now. It remains difficult for us too, but if we are to be focused on Jesus, and not let the ups and downs of the world overcome us, this is were we must be.
Now I'm going to look at these last four verses in a more detail. You may want to follow the text as I do.

24 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
The disciples had all been called, some had left their jobs and homes in an instant to follow Jesus, and yet He say “If anyone would come after me ...” His assumption is that they are making an effort to follow him (and right now to keep up with Him!). That is true for us too, it is hard work sometimes to follow Jesus, we don't understand where He is leading us, or the purpose behind what He is asking of us. Some of the things He say, some of the commands (or is that demands) in scripture seem impossible.

Deny Self

But following after Him is the easy piece. Next He says that we must deny ourselves. That is not the same as self denial. During Lent some people give up chocolate or perhaps meat or something else – they deny it to themselves, that is self denial, it is not denying self. To understand what Jesus is saying we can again use Peter as an example. Most of you will know that after Jesus' arrest Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times. In predicting that Jesus said (Mt 26:34) “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”
The word used there – translated disown – is the same word used in this passage. When we become Christians everything that we were is to be left behind. As Paul says to the Corinthians “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
We can say of our former lives “I don't know him (or her) – I have nothing to do with them.”. It is easy to say, but much harder to do.
So what does it mean in practice, I found this description:
“If when you are good, evil is spoken, and when your wishes are crossed and your advice is disregarded, and your opinions are ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, and even defend yourself’ but your take it patiently in loving silence, then you are dying to self. And when you lovingly and patiently bear any disgrace, any irregularity, any annoyance, when you stand face to face with extravagance and folly and spiritual insensitivity and endure it, as Jesus did, that is dying to self. And when you are content with any food, any money, any clothing, any society, any solitude or interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. And when you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch after commendation from others, and when you truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self. When you see you brother prosper, see his needs wondrously met, and can honestly rejoice with him [with his big house, with big car, with his big pool – whatever it may be] without feeling envy, and never question God though your needs are greater and still unmet, that is dying to self. Now when you can receive correction and reproof from someone of less stature, and admit that he is right and find no resentment or rebellion in your heart, that is dying to self.”

[Chelmsford holding cross]
We have neutralized to power of the cross, we have turned it into a symbol of comfort. Do you remember the video of the Chelmsford holding cross a few weeks ago, and how lovingly this symbol was described. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as we don't loose its real meaning – it represented a shameful death to the Romans, and also to the Jews. For us today the nearest equivalent would be to carry an electric chair – that is where murders end up in some countries, and that is what the cross really represents.
We have an expression - “we all have our crosses to bear” which, no doubt, derived from this passage, but our saying does not do justice to the passage. It usually refers to all the difficulties that occur in life – sickness, disability, problems with family or work, or whatever causes you trouble, but that is not what Jesus is talking about. We only have one cross to bear, and it is the cross of Christ.

25 & 26 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
This saying in verse 25 is found in all four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, so the gospel writers clearly though that it was important. Sometimes it is found more than once, so it may have been something that Jesus was said to them all many times. It is simply saying that if you try to save your life now – by denying Jesus, then you will ultimately loose it, but if you loose your life now then you are assured of eternal life. This is really just an extension and expansion of 'take up your cross'.

26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?
Our translation makes it sound as though Jesus has changed tack, but the word translated 'soul' here is the same word translated 'life' in the previous verse. The word can be translated to life, soul, heart, mind and refers to the inner person, so nothing much has changed in what Jesus is saying. Perhaps we could say “What good is it if a man gains the whole world, yet forfeits himself. What can a man give in exchange for himself?
So what can a man get in exchange for his soul, for himself?
There are any number of films and stories based on people gaining some advantage by selling their soul to Satan, and their lives do not end well, but it was an exchange in a bond film that really spoke to me:
Elektra King: I could have given you the world.
James Bond: The world is not enough.
Elektra King: Foolish sentiment.
James Bond: Family motto.
When we are tempted to go seeking after things that the world has to offer, we should remember the family motto “The world is not enough”.
Look at it another way. On one of the CCS evening the students were doing a presentation on how to reach various groups of people, as a demonstration of a technique I was asked to come to the front to estimate the value of a rare painting, which they had carefully covered and stood on the floor. I was asked to kneel down, but my knees are not that great, and I didn't get as far as I had hoped. They raised the cover …
… and I saw a picture of my feet!!
How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news! - or even if they are on the church floor! From the hymn 'Our God Reigns' and Isaiah 52
It was of course a way of revealing to people how much God values them.
I wouldn't give up my soul for the world, but God gave up His son for my soul.

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.

For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.
There is an expectation that God will respond justly to how we behave in this life.
Ps 62v2 Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.
Ro 2:6-8 God “will give to each person according to what he has done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour 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.

Mt 16:28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Mt 16:28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Peter has already been told that He has been given the Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, but we know that Jesus is in charge of His church on Earth, and we also know that all the disciples were involved in the founding of the church in some way, and the church is the beginnings of the Kingdom of God.


Jesus has moved the teaching up a level in response to Peters triumph and failure. He is preparing the disciples for Easter. We may not have realized that there is such a cost to discipleship and we may not yet be ready to go the whole way. We should remember that Jesus' mission to save us from sin and death cost him His life, that seems to be more that a fair trade to me.
Lets pray.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Wedding of the Year

After an early start, we were ready in plenty of time, the Rolls Royce arrived and took the bridesmaids to church, it came back for us. Liz and I rode in the back, with Jo on a fold down seat in the middle.  It was a lovely car, but a quite uncomfortable ride - give me modern suspension any day.  We arrived to find the church full. As we prepared for the walk down the aisle, the brownies were so excited they could barely stay in their seats.  When the music finally started we walked slowly down the aisle - just as we had practiced.  The wedding went without a hitch - well just one hitch - Ray to Liz.  Gary gave an excellent talk, Tom lead us through communion and then it was all over.  It took a while, but it didn't seem that long. After the service there was a recption in the hall for those who were not invited to the wedding brekfast.  While people enjoyed some refreshment and I tried to catch up with friends and family, the picures were being taken. 
We then travelled to the Freight House, near Rochford station, for the wedding breakfast, and the speaches.  A very nice  meal was served to the 100+ guests and everything was ready for the dancing by a little after 7:30pm.  The evening finished at midnight, but by then most people had already left.

It was a lovely occasion, I would like to thank all those involved for making it an incredibly enjoyable day for Liz and Ray and for all their friends and family.  I received so many positive comments about the church service and the reception that underlined to me just how well everything had gone. 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Psalm 135: How Great thou Art

Preached at Christ Church, Billericay 16 March at 8am


This is quite a different Psalm from psalm 23, that I spoke on last month.  Psalm 23 has a very personal element that Psalm 135 seems to lack, although even here there are some personal statements.  This psalm is like a collection of favourite verses in the bible put together into a song.  Here's the list:
Psalm 135:1 from Psalm 134:1 and 113:1
Psalm 135:2 from Psalm 134:1
Psalm 135:3 from Psalm 147:1
Psalm 135:4 from Exodus 19:5 and Deuteronomy 7:6
Psalm 135:5 from Exodus 19:5 and 18:11
Psalm 135:6 from Psalm 115:3
Psalm 135:7 from Jeremiah 10:13 and Job 38:22
Psalm 135:8-12 from Psalm 136:10-22
Psalm 135:13-18 from Exodus 3:15; Deuteronomy 32:36; Isaiah 44:12-;20; Jeremiah 10:6-10
Psalm 135:19-20 from Psalm 115:9-11
Psalm 135:21 from Psalm 128:5 and Psalm 134:3
It seems to have been written for use in the temple liturgy of the second temple. It is part of the group of psalms (120-136) known as the “Great Hallal” and starts and ends with Hallelujah's.
And here's how the song is constructed:
1-4 Israel’s Praise
5-7 Yahweh's Greatness as creator
8-14 Yahweh's Redemptive Acts in History
15-18 Inability of Idols
19-21 Israel’s praise

1-4 Israel’s Praise

The psalm opens with Hallelujah, translated “Praise the Lord”, which sounds like an instruction to us, but is as much “Praise of the Lord” as and encouragement to “Praise the Lord”. The praise is to start from those who are closest to God, those who “minister in the house of the Lord” - inside the temple – the priests and move to those in the temple courts – outside where the regular worshippers meet.
We praise the Lord because He is good, and the act of praise is pleasant.  Then as now a great song of worship can lift the congregation and improve their mood, and that is what this Psalm is meant to do.  We all feel better after a really good song of praise.
It is then we find out why the Israelites can praise their Lord so readily and heartily.  Praise the Lord because he has chosen your family to be His own – to receive His special favour.

5-7 Yahweh's Greatness as creator

Now, in the second part of the Psalm we move from the family to the individual. Verse 5 starts with I.  “I know ...”.  The Lord is not just a great God because he has chosen my family, but because he has chosen me, and I know it.  The Lord is greater than all the other Gods, I know that he is in charge of all creation – He does whatever pleases him, in the heavens, on the earth in the sea and under the earth.  He controls the weather.  These are the psalmists personal experiences of God.

8-14 Yahweh's Redemptive Acts in History

In verse 8 the emphasis moves from the general elements of creation to the specifics that the Israelites have to be thankful to God for.  Immediately we are taken back to the escape from Egypt in the Exodus, and the final act of God that made that escape possible.  He struck down the first born of Pharaoh and all the Egyptians, but it was not just escape that was made possible, it was also entry to the promised land.  Sihon, Og, and all the kings of Canaan had to be overcome before the Israelites could enter the promised land.  The land was then given to the Israelites as an inheritance. 
Having set God up as a fearsome Lord, destroying all the enemies, this section ends with a reminder the Lord will be there forever – through all generations.  He will vindicate his people and have compassion on His servants.  He will not treat His chosen ones like the enemies He has defeated for them, to get them to the promised land.

15-18 Inability of Idols

Now we concentrate on the reasons the other kingdoms failed: Their gods are just idols, they are silver and gold made by men, they do not speak, see, hear or breathe, unlike the God of the Israelites.  It's a stark choice, do you put your trust in the God of everything, or the idol that is nothing, that is the comparison.  The section ends with the expectation that you become who you believe in.

19-21 Israel’s praise

In the final section we return to the Hallelujah's this time we start with the praise of Israel, and return to the priests and the Levites, but there is also the more general “you who fear him”, implying that there are those in Israel who do not!

Christian Approach

As we have already said, the psalm was written for the liturgy of the second temple, it was most certainly not written with us in mind. So how should we as Christians understand the Psalm, and use it?
The first, and most important thing to note is that, while it was not written for us, it still conveys some very basic and important truths about The Lord God, all these things we know:
The Lord is Good
Praising the Lord is pleasant
The Lord has chosen us, just as he chose Jacob
We are His treasured possession (I am his treasured possession) [Say it]
The Lord is greater than all the other things we make into gods – mainly ourselves these days
The Lord does whatever pleases him (v6), although we may not believe that He manages the weather second-by-second, we still believe that he has ultimate control of it.
We know that the Lord does miracles, but the miracle we look back to is not the escape from Egypt, but the death and resurrection of Jesus.  We know that the event we look back to was accompanied by signs and wonders, just as the escape from Egypt was. 
We do not look back to the defeat of nations
(vv11-12), but to the subjugation of the 'principalities and powers' as we watch the world turn from its pagan ways to the Christian faith in the early centuries after the resurrection of Christ.
We know that the Lord endures forever.
That he will vindicate his people, and that he has compassion on his servants.
We know that gold and silver, whether they are coin shaped or fashioned into an image of a being cannot really speak into the world.

Use in worship?

That is looking at the detail of the psalm, and perhaps that is the best way for us to use it.  I tried to find a sung version of the psalm, I was hoping to hear it in the Hebrew language, but I could only find a Serbian chant.  It did not raise my spirits, to my ears it was just something that should be turned off.  I went to the scripture index of my Songs and Hymns of Fellowship (volumes 1-3) to see if there were any songs based on this psalm – there aren't.  Judging by the list it is one of the few psalms that hasn't inspired a modern song.
There is one song that captures the sort of worship this psalm was aimed at, but its verses are specifically Christian.  It praises God, it recognises that creation is His.  It looks back to the amazing miracle that Jesus died for our sins, and rose from the dead to prove He is God, and is coming to collect us and take us to a land so much greater than the land of Israel.
Sing it to yourselves as you leave.
Any suggestions?
The one I thought of is: "How Great Thou Art"

O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.


And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.


When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"


Sunday, March 09, 2014


Preached at St Johns, Billericay 9 March 2014


In Oscar Wilde's play “Lady Windemere's Fan” Lord Darlington says “I can resist anything but temptation”.  It is said rather flippantly in the play, but for us it is a good starting point.  Should we try to resist temptations, or should we just give in to them?  That is the proposal in another of Oscar Wilde's plays - “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, where Lord Henry says “The only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it. Resist it, and your soul grows sick with longing for the things it has forbidden to itself, with desire for what its monstrous laws have made monstrous and unlawful.”.  It is quite a contrast to the response that Jesus had when He was tempted.
Are you tempted?  Do you recognise what Oscar Wilde is saying? 
I have several temptations, one that I have suffered from for many years is the temptation to eat when it is not necessary, when I'm not hungry and it's not meal time.  Just writing these words has made my stomach rumble!  I have only recently tried to resist this, so I can say that yielding to temptation does not make the temptation go away.


Lets see what we mean by temptation.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a temptation is “The desire to do something, especially something wrong or unwise”.  Other dictionaries add the concept of evil, so temptation is the desire to do some wrong, unwise or evil.
In the bible the word for tempting can also mean testing.  I saw a good tweet the other day that illustrates this.  “I didn't break it, I was administering a robustness test and it failed”. 
I have started to resist the temptation because I have come to understand that it is unwise.  My weight is beginning to affect my health, so in order to live a healthier life I must resist the temptation.
So let's take a look at the gospel passage we read in the light of those ideas and see where it takes us.
Jesus led to the Wilderness
After his baptism Jesus is led into the wilderness by the spirit to be tempted by the devil.  He has just heard the words ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ Now He has to face a test, it is not a test that is intended to break Jesus, it is one that is intended to prove Him.  To prove that He is up to the task of bringing salvation to mankind.
We must not miss the parallels with the Old Testament.  God's chosen people faced the wilderness immediately after the triumph of escape from the Egyptians, and Jesus will face the wilderness after the triumph of hearing the heavenly voice.

The temptations

For forty days in the Wilderness Jesus fasts, and Matthew says he was hungry.  Forty days is about as much as anyone can fast without being in danger of serious health problems, or even death, so to say that Jesus was hungry was an understatement.  He is weak when the devil attacks. So it is not surprising that the first temptation is about food.

Turn these stones into bread

Satan, or the tempter as he is called starts off with something like “Well so you're Jesus, the son of God.  You sure look hungry. God doesn't want you to starve, he provides for your every need, and you have all the powers of God, so just turn these stones into bread and you will be satisfied”.  Satan is not suggesting that there is any doubt that Jesus is the son of God, he is just suggesting that the son of God should not be in need of a good meal.  We know that Jesus has the power to produce miraculous food from the stories of the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000.
Jesus quotes part of Deuteronomy 8:3.  It is part of the story of the Israelites in the wilderness.  Here's the whole verse:
“He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors 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.”
God fed the Israelites, even though they had not trusted him and had complained to Moses that they had left behind all the good food that was available in Egypt.
Jesus knows that his ability to perform miracles is not to be used to look after himself, for that He must trust in God just as those he has come to save must trust in God for their everyday needs.

Throw yourself off

Satan is clever.  If Jesus wants to use scripture to defend himself, then Satan will use it to attack too.  So Jesus is taken to the highest point of the temple, and invited to throw himself off.  Satan is saying something like “OK, Jesus, you trust God, but how much do you trust God.  Do you trust God with your life, even when its in immediate danger?  Psalm 91 says that you should, so go on ...” 
Here’s the verse from Psalm 91 that Satan uses:
 9 If you say, ‘The Lord is my refuge,’
    and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
    no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
    to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
    you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
It's not a full quote, he has missed out 'to guard you in all your ways', but its not so far away for Satan to have been accused of misusing scripture.
Later Jewish writings say that the messiah will prove himself by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple, but not as a spectacle for the crowds. 
Jesus' response is to use more scripture.  This time it comes from Exodus 17:2-7 and is not a direct quote.  In Exodus 17 the Israelites are complaining that they don't have water, Moses strikes a rock and water gushes out.  Before this Moses is angry with them and says “Why do you put the Lord your God to the test?”

“Bow down to me”

The final temptation really gets to the crux of the matter.  Both the temptations so far have been clear lies, but subtle with it.  The third is not subtle in any way.  Jesus is taken to somewhere where he can see the whole world and its' splendour. With this in view Satan makes him an offer. “I will give you all this if you will bow down to me”.  The lie here is not only that Jesus won't really own it if He has to give allegiance to Satan, but what He is shown is also a lie, the world is not only the splendid parts, and Jesus has primarily come to deal with the less than splendid parts.  Jesus is being offered a short cut to get what he came for. Satan is saying something like: “Look at all I have, you can have it all, and you won't need to go through all that suffering and pain.  Just bow down to me and its yours” 
Jesus knows that if he is to do anything about the suffering and pain he must go to the cross and pay the price for all the people who are less than splendid, and that that is the only way.  So his response is another piece of scripture, this time Deuteronomy 6:13 “Fear the Lord your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name.” and he give Satan a direct command, which He has the authority to give, so Satan must leave, but he will be back.

Not a sin to be tempted

Jesus was without sin, and yet Jesus was tempted, so we can see that it is not a sin to be tempted. Temptations though, must be dealt with, or they will quickly turn into sins.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:13 “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Our temptations

Satan approaches us in the same way he approached Jesus.  He will ask us the same type of questions, and offer us the same ways forward.
Here are a few key pieces of scripture that will help us resist the temptations placed before us by Satan:
1 John 5:4 everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Our faith keeps us close to God, just as Jesus was close to his father.  If we stay focussed on God and his kingdom the distractions of the world will become less significant for us.

2 Tim. 2:22 Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
Mark Twain said “There are several good protections against temptations, but the surest is cowardice.”  and it seems that the Bible agrees – Run Away.
Just like Jesus we too have authority over Satan,  just tell him to “Go Away”.  You'll have to say it out loud though, because Satan is not inside you like God is.

Our fault

Sometimes though our temptations are not caused bay Satan whispering in our ear, but by our own determination, and sometimes those are the ones that lead us to sin.
Jack was a slave in the Philippines whose main job was chopping wood. One day Jack told his master “I finally realised that it is not my fault I'm a slave, its all Adams fault, he ate the forbidden fruit.”  So the master said he was very sorry, and that from now on he should live in the big house.  There was only one condition, he must not look in the box on the dining table. 
After gorging himself with a sumptuous meal, he saw the box. It was just an ordinary looking box. He shook it. But it was light and it seems to be empty. He got so curious that he opened it. He saw a letter. It read: “Dear Jack. See? Don’t you ever blame Adam again! If you were in his place, you would do the same thing. Go chop some wood!”


Paul explains Adam's curse, and Jesus redemption through the grace of God in the reading we had from the letter to the Romans.  It is why Jesus came, why he went through the temptations, to prove that there was one man who would never fall, and that He can pay the price for us all.  The last verse sums it up:
For just as through the disobedience of the one man q  the many were made sinners, r  so also through the obedience s  of the one man the many will be made righteous
We have seen that giving in to temptation is not helpful, because it does not make the enticements go away.
We have seen that Jesus was tempted – or tested – and proved to be the righteous son of God, who succeeded where Adam and the Israelites failed. He was clear about his mission, focused on God, and not the world.
We have looked at some helpful ways to avoid temptation and that we have a forgiving Father who has paid for the sins we commit when we fail to avoid or resist temptation.