Lord, teach us to pray 2

We began a study of the Lord’s Prayer last time, looking at what the first line really mean: Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name.

What you told me last time is that you want to learn how to pray out loud. This is exactly what Jesus’ disciples were asking him. In one sense, praying is easy, in another, it is not something we can perfect. It is talking to God, and as in all good relationships, it is also a great deal of listening. It takes practice, as any good relationship does. So by learning about what Jesus said when his peeps were asking him about prayer, looking at what Jesus told them helps us now. The rest is practice.

Your kingdom come (on earth as it is in heaven)

This is an extremely radical prayer!! We’re praying for a revolution of epic proportions. We are praying for God to be king, not the powers of this world that rule oppressively because of greed.

When Mary found out she was pregnant, she was overjoyed (eventually) and wrote some praise music. Part of it says, “His mercy flows in wave after wave on those who are in awe before him. He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts. He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud. The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold.” She understood what the coming of the Messiah would do! God is a God of action, he is invested in the coming of his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He’s working on it through us, who are his church.  Cornerstone is a church. The church is made up of people, it’s not the building.

Jewish understanding of history is that it is moving towards a meaningful goal: the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. (The story of God in 5 acts: creation, fall, Jesus, the church, apocalypse)

Apocalypse in Jesus’ day meant “unveiling.” – That which was hidden is coming into view. When Jesus died, the veil in the temple tore in half – the “holy of holies” was revealed. That is the beginning of the revelation. The prayer is for God to fully reveal God’s kingdom, to remove all the veils. In the end, God will make clear (unveil) before the entire world what is already true right now: that the crucified Jesus is on the throne of the universe, that God is King.

What we are actually asking is “Lord, unveil your kingdom of light and joy and power and justice and wholeness. On earth as it is in heaven.”

Paul writes, “Now we see only a dim likeness of things. It is as if we were seeing them in a foggy mirror. But someday we will see clearly. We will see face to face. What I know now is not complete. But someday I will know completely, just as God knows me completely.” 1 Cor 13:12

The “kingdom of God” is not a place – it is here, it is God’s creation, with God as king. In its fullness, the kingdom of God is a new world order, centered in the Messiah, in which humans are remade into the image of God and all of creation is restored into God’s original creation design.

Jesus’ miracles – the blind see, the prisoners are free – demonstrate that indeed the future is breaking into the present. They also show us what that future is all about. It is also visible when we see goodness, generosity and unconditional love in the world. That is the reality of God’s kingdom that is here but not yet here in all its fullness.

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Mark records: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee. He preached the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Turn away from your sins and believe the good news!”” (John was put in prison because he was causing a disturbance in the desert, baptizing people. The Romans didn’t tolerate any troublemakers and didn’t stop to ask what the problem was.) Jesus left for Galilee, a safe distance from Jerusalem (which was the center of religious and Roman power in the region). The kingdom of God has come near means that the fulfillment of God’s promises has begun. Jesus was a revolutionary in his day, and that is why people eventually wanted him killed. He was upsetting the status quo. The rich, comfortable, selfish people didn’t appreciate that. God’s kingdom is coming at the rate that we, the body of Christ, are willing to be of service.

Your Will be done (on earth as it is in heaven)

If we want God to be king, then we want God to rule. For God to be ruler, we must obey his rules, submit to his will. This tends to rub us the wrong way, we want to be in control. But the thing is, we make a mess of things. We do not know what is best for us. We are imprisoned by our passions, and instead of praying for freedom, we pray for a Persian rug for our cell.

God’s will is:

  1. That we be as creative as he is (Genesis)
  2. That we be blessed and then bless (Abraham)
  3. To set us free from all that keeps us from being blessed so that we can be a blessing (The Exodus)
  4. That we grow into this freedom (10 Commandments)
  5. That we live the kingdom life – having a viewpoint that is aligned with God’s
  6. That we know him (same word as husband-wife intimate relationship, relationships like that take time and effort)
  7. That we be filled with his life (indwelling Spirit/Jesus lives in our heart) Jesus in us, us on fire for the coming of the kingdom through the church (people).

John 6 “46 No one has seen the Father except the one who has come from God. Only he has seen the Father. 47 What I’m about to tell you is true. Everyone who believes has life forever. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Long ago your people ate the manna in the desert, and they still died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven. A person can eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Everyone who eats some of this bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give it for the life of the world.” Because Jesus conquered evil with love, there is life, not death. Jesus was resurrected. He lives. Evil has already lost. But we well know that evil is still present. Until the last day, the big unveiling, evil will still be visible. And yet, God is in control.

Jesus lives the perfect example of obedience to God. Even in the garden shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus prays to God, “Your will, not mine.” It was God’s will to show us that evil can be conquered by love. That is what Martin Luther King Jr. meant when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.



Lord, teach us to pray 1

Matt 6:5-15 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Prayer is not mysterious. Prayer is a conversation, as with a friend.

And yet, prayer is very mysterious. It is a conversation with the creator of the universe. What power! But what intimacy and tender loving care!

Prayer changes things, unlike worrying, which does nothing positive. Praying is trusting God to act. Trusting God to act in our best interest, which includes his saying no to some of our requests. Praying opens up time and space for God to reveal his will to us, to guide us, to love us. I find in hindsight, sometimes I’m glad I didn’t get what I asked for, that God in his wisdom (greater than mine!) said no.

Paul wrote to the Philippians 4:6-7 Do not worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks. And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

God is always available, always cares, and always listens. God delights in his creation, in you. God cherishes time spent with you. God is generous and gives what you need. If he doesn’t give you the million dollars you asked for, it’s because you don’t need them!

We tell God our requests. We remember that he cares. We know he is powerful. We thank him for his faithfulness.

Today, we will read from the Gospel written by Matthew. Jesus preached a massive sermon – it covers chapters 5,6 & 7 in Matthew. It is commonly referred as the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s bit comes from chapter 6 – the middle of the sermon.

Jesus opposes 2 kinds of prayers – those who stand on street corners for show and those who babble on endlessly. We can view the Lord’s Prayer as given words to pray – the Jewish people in Jesus’ day recited prayers all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that and a good deal right, as long as we don’t say the words mindlessly, which is the danger in memorizing prayers.  Then it becomes babble. But if we recite the Lord’s Prayer as prayer, when we want those things we pray – the coming of the kingdom, and our daily bread – then it is helpful in learning how to pray. It is a good model.

God knows what we need before we pray. God doesn’t know what we will say, but he knows our needs! Not what we think we need. God has a different perspective on our needs than we do, a larger, infinite and wiser perspective.

Today’s little section to be explored: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.

Our – means we live in community, we are not first and foremost individuals in God’s eyes

Father – indicates a family relationship; we are sons and daughters through Jesus, who is Son of God. Abba; Daddy. To call God “Father” in prayer is to receive God’s love, to know his power and to seek to embody his will.

In heaven – the German words for heaven and sky are the same. So it was in Jesus’ day. Heaven wasn’t a place far away. Heaven is here, now, God is in us, among us, as well as everywhere else. That is still where heaven is today.

Hallowed be – make holy, be honoured, be glorified, be sanctified, be made real

Your name – back in Jesus’ days, without police checks, internet, or record keeping, one’s name is one’s reputation, one’s character. It is who God is: Yahweh.

In this statement, “Hallowed be your name,” Jesus is asking God to make his name holy. We do not – we cannot! In praying this, we are asking God to keep up his reputation of being loving and righteous. We are asking God to be and act in ways that bring honour and glory to himself. (ex. Ezek 36:22 “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.”)

Who do we want to rule over us? God who is good and loves us? Or something less perfect?

Jesus’ name in Hebrew is Joshua, or Y’shua, meaning “Yahweh saves.” In everything Jesus does, the saving character of God is revealed. It is the deepest passion of Jesus to reveal the nature and character of God. This is why Jesus died on the cross. John 12:27-28 Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!

Jesus is God, God is Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, God died. God died for your sins. God took them away from you and paid the price so justice was served. Death separates the sin from the sinner.

In “The Shack,” the father, Mack, was willing to stand in for his children so they would not have to go to hell. That is what God did for everyone. As Christians, we believe this and we accept this gift and rejoice!

…and his name shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.” Jesus is now with us always, in our hearts, in our lives, everywhere. Jesus is God’s gift to humanity, when we accept this gift, it is ours to keep. This is the choice to make.


1 Corinthians 1: 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.


Christians live in the only major religious tradition in the world whose founder was executed by established authority. Why would any first century person have been converted to Christian faith through the preaching of Paul? It doesn’t make sense.

If we think that a good God gives us everything we want, think again. What would have happened to you if God would have given you everything that you wanted during your life? Would you really love a mom and a dad like that? No, not at all. Instead, you would become a monster. God does not try to buy our love by giving us everything we think we need. God just gives us love. It pours out from him into our hearts so that we can also love.

Four ways by which God creates genuine, deep love in us:

  1. God does not eliminate suffering from our lives but God suffers with us and for us. God is with us and we are not alone. That creates love within us.
  2. Unconditional love. There is absolutely nothing that you can do to stop God from loving you.
  3. A third quality that goes into creating love is to affirm/support/encourage. The quality of affirmation creates love in the other.
  4. The fourth quality that creates love is this: to be willing to die in place of another person if he or she becomes sick. That is at the very heart of the cross. When that becomes an experiential reality in your life, that creates love within you.

Christ’s love is the deepest kind of love, a love which is willing to die for another. The cross symbolizes a way of loving, a way of living, and a way of losing yourself for the benefit of another.

To understand Jesus is to understand the cross. To understand the cross is to understand the love of God. To understand the love of God is to understand a God who suffers with us, who loves us unconditionally, who loves us affirmatively, and a love that loves us so much that God is willing to die for us. That is the Gospel.

The foolishness of the Cross:

The core of Paul’s preaching is the proclamation of the crucified Christ. This is not a message geared to win friends or influence people. The cross was a lousy marketing tool in the first century world and now too.

The first century realities of crucifixion: capital punishment by the forces of the Roman Empire, reserved for disreputable individuals such as rebellious slaves, insurrectionists, pirates, or gangsters who had threatened the social order of the Empire. The cross was the imperial instrument used to suppress subversion (going against the status quo/upsetting the system – something Jesus excelled at)

Given this reality, it would be sheer idiocy (not just mere foolishness) to think how the cross might be a way that God reveals himself. Paul, however openly, boldly, and regularly proclaims the cross as the intentional and exclusive means God has chosen to meet humanity and introduce our salvation.

God’s embarrassing action in the cross relates to our human attempts to establish what we think are appropriate means for meeting God. According to 1:22, Jews demand signs, and Greeks seek wisdom. Here, Paul is referring to attempts to encounter God, either through miracles (such as the events surrounding the Exodus) or elaborate philosophical systems. The proclamation of Christ crucified does not fit such human criteria – it is offensive to Jewish feelings and idiotic to Gentile/Greek intelligence (1:23).

God, however, has not sought us out similar to the ways we have sought out God. Rather, God has intentionally and decidedly destroyed the ways and means by which we decided get to God (1:19, quoting Isaiah 29:14). Through the four rhetorical questions in 1:20, Paul declares that God has rejected and embarrassed the best and brightest of human efforts to understand, explain, and experience God.

What Paul rejects is the attempt to know God, to approach God, to be reconciled to God from below, from our side, by our own efforts. We simply cannot think or feel or act our way up to God. We cannot know God or relate to God through our own wisdom. We do not get to God, or find the key to knowing God through our efforts. Rather, God comes to us and establishes the terms of the encounter through the cross.

For many Corinthians, the Romans were the good guys (major trade route bringing wealth, stability, slave labour). So, to their thinking, Jesus must be to blame for his own crucifixion. After all, he was a seditionist, keeping company with zealots, undermining the imperial health and tax systems, proclaiming the in-breaking of an alternative empire. To say otherwise would be foolishness. He was not the last unarmed innocent to be condemned to certain death by powers that justified his killing in the name of their own peace and security.

But, says Paul, God chose what is foolish to shame those who think they are so wise.

Paul’s God is about the work of using the worst the empire can do to overturn its so-called power, overturning it not with force but with the power of weeping women, terrified disciples and a moaning body on a Roman cross.

Paul freely acknowledges that “the message of the cross is foolishness,” but only to those who are perishing. In that shocking statement, Paul uses a word that hints at the identity of those who are perishing. “Message” is the Greek word logos, which to the Jews could be a reference to the law or to wisdom, while to the Greeks it was the reason behind the cosmic order. In using that word Paul is acknowledging that message of the cross is an offense to both the religious mind and the reasoned mind. Indeed, both kinds of people see the word of the cross as nothing less than foolishness. And both kinds of people are perishing because of their rejection of the cross.

“But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” Paul chooses “power” here, perhaps as a way of emphasizing that the logos of the cross is not merely good advice to us, telling us what we must do to be saved. Rather, that logos is a message about what God has done. More than that, the cross itself is God’s power at work doing what we cannot do. The message of the cross is not first of all a way of thinking or a way of living; it is God’s actual power at work to save those who cannot save themselves, no matter how hard they think or how well they live.

At first Paul’s argument sounds like a series of baseless assertions. Paul agrees that the message of the cross is, from any normal human vantage point, foolishness, but nonetheless asserts God’s wisdom in it. The text seems to go around in circles: if you think the cross is foolishness, your conclusion just proves that you are perishing.

God in his wisdom invented another way to God. And it wasn’t only his wisdom at work; it was also his love. “God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.” Salvation can be gained not by thinking, not by doing, but only by believing the event itself, the actual crucifixion of Christ.

The Jews represent all the people in the world today who simply want proof/facts. We want to see actual miracles, signs that will prove to us that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah promised for ages. The idea of a suffering Messiah or, worse, a Messiah that died on a Roman cross under the curse of God, is not merely nonsense; it is blasphemous/sacrilegious/offensive. A crucified Messiah was a scandal, a stumbling block for everyone who thinks that if God is going to save the world, he will do it through his almighty power (our logic).

The Greeks represent all the people in the world who don’t care about “the facts,” about alleged historical evidence of the truth of Christ crucified. Paul is talking about people for whom the message of Christ crucified just doesn’t make any sense. The idea of a crucified God simply doesn’t fit into the mindset of those whose gods fight and fornicate on Mt. Olympus or who have no gods at all. The humanistic mindset (“Man is the measure of things”) has no room for a God who becomes human and dies for humanity. The whole idea is simply foolish superstition.

Paul knows those people, just as we do. What is his approach to them? How will he preach about Jesus to those who demand evidence of God’s power and to those who are governed by the prevailing wisdom of the day? He preached Christ crucified regardless. He didn’t change his message to fit his audience, precisely because Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God. The cross of Christ was the only way that made sense given the nature of God and humanity and the world.

God chooses the way God chooses not just to demonstrate the capacity to upend the status quo, as if God were saying by these choices, “I’m bigger than you.” God chooses the foolish/weak/nothing in order to upend the status quo and in order to create life. Like the acorn that falls to the ground, cracks, and spills out its guts and by all reckoning is dying, life is created, and an oak tree grows out of that destruction, because of God’s design. God also designed life to come out of the crucifixion – Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive forever now, death has lost the battle! I bet the devil was full of glee as Jesus hung on the cross, thinking he had won, but it was very temporary. In the end, God wins. God has already won. We are living in that time span where the kingdom of God is breaking in, bit by bit, one person at a time, as Jesus is born again in people’s hearts as they come to believe.

Subversive Jesus

Subversive Jesus

John 2:13-22 (NIV) When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


The word subversive comes from Latin. “Sub” means from below and “vertere” means to turn. So, to subvert means to turn things upside-down, especially the established system or the status quo, from below.

In today’s story, Jesus turns tables upside down, but what he is effectively working towards is turning the entire economic and political system upside down.

The root for ethical behavior for the Israelite people was that God liberated them from slavery, and now their task was to do the same for others. God chose these people to be a light to the nations – to teach them the ways of God. They didn’t have a great track record, as you might already know. So, hundreds of years later, Jews from all over Israel were required to return to Jerusalem on the festival known as “Passover” to be reminded of that covenant promise. That promise was that God would be their God and they would be his people, and that they were to share this good news of a loving God with the rest of the world.

As an observant Jew, Jesus would have joined the 300,000 people who had crammed into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. According to all gospel accounts, he enters the temple, sees the activities being performed there, and he gets angry!

In the temple courtyards, there’s a market of cattle, sheep, and other animals for sale. These animals have to be bought with the right kind of money – local currency, not Roman. Roman money has the face of the emperor on it, and the emperor calls himself a god. So to use Roman money would be idolatry for them. So there’s moneychangers there for that. And every one of them is trying to make a fast buck. All of them cared far more about how much money they could make and cared nothing for the people who were being ripped off, or for the temple as a shelter for their God, or the purpose of the Passover festival. Their focus wasn’t all that different from some people today, who care more about getting rich than helping their neighbour.

The animals were sold for the offerings made at the temple. That was the tradition. People were required to make sacrifices for a variety of festivals and rites. If you were wealthy you gave a large animal, like a cow or ox. If you were poor, you gave doves or pigeons. However, to ensure “unblemished” animals, you had to buy your animals at the gate of the temple where the prices were higher than in the countryside. And, as is typical, the costs tended to be felt more by the poor than the wealthy. To purchase one pair of doves outside the temple was the equivalent of two days’ wages. But the doves had to be inspected for quality control just inside the temple, and if your recently purchased animals were found to be in fact blemished, then you had to buy two more doves for the equivalent of 40 days’ wages!

The moneychangers were needed to change the money into usable local currency. The money changers were the banks in first century Palestine. Moneychangers were also corrupt and charged more than they should.

So a one day stay in Jerusalem during one of the three major festivals could cost between $3,000 and $4,000 dollars in today’s money, and Jews were required to attend at least one of them each year. None of it was illegal. They were business men operating within the law. But it took Jesus and a few radical rabbis to point out that the law itself was unjust. Just because it was legal didn’t make it right. Does that resonate with any of you?

Jesus entered Jerusalem expecting, or at least wanting, to see a celebration of what God had done during the Exodus – freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.  Instead, he saw a corrupted system that maintained the economic caste system where the rich stayed rich and the poor stayed poor. Jesus had come to bring good news to the poor and that just isn’t good news. Naturally, his message was radical and unpopular with the rich.

So Jesus lost his cool. This account is the only violent act of Jesus that’s recorded in the gospels. It reminds us that there’s no “business as usual” with Jesus. He came to make the wrong right and that more often than not meant upsetting the status quo. His stated mission was to bring an upside-down Kingdom that would be good news for the poor and the oppressed (Lk 4:18). This Kingdom was not just a place to chill out in heaven after we die – but something that would come on earth as well (Mt 6:10).

The temple had started to look like just any old Jerusalem flea market, and so people were forgetting that to have faith was to believe that God’s house is most definitely not just any old place. Maybe Jesus wanted to shake people up so they could remember that to have faith is a radical thing that should make us radically different from those who do not have faith.

The goal was purification of the temple to restore its sacred purpose, as a place of prayer for all people, without manipulation or exploitation by the religious gatekeepers. We have religious gatekeepers in some churches today too– wearing the right clothes, behaving properly, your children being well-behaved, giving enough money into the offering, being involved in church groups, etc.

The cleansing of the temple is a stark warning against every false sense of security — against every nice-n-neat box we try to stick Jesus into for our own comfort. Jesus comes to challenge rather than to reinforce prejudices and illusions. He comes to make strange what religion makes safe and cozy. He never once says, “Understand me.” He says something far more radical. He says “Follow me.” People talk about Christianity being a religion. To me, religion is a set of rules you have to live by for God to love you – like going to church on Sundays and saying bedtime prayers. But that is not what Jesus/God wants – little robots who go through the motions. God wants to have a relationship with us as real people who love God and show that love by loving others. Jesus loved others. He said “Follow me.”

Jesus is not comfortable. Jesus always challenges. Always away from the status quo, away from comfort, into the messiness of life. Jesus says follow me – because he is already there in the mess, waiting for us to join him in the mission of making things right, of helping the poor and bringing down the rich, by ending oppression and laws that are unfair to the marginalized. We all have a role to play in that, no matter how small. We are called to follow Jesus into the messiness of life and to do something about it. Sometimes that includes getting angry, as we have seen Jesus do in today’s story.

What might this look like in your life? What is unjust in the system that you live in? What can you do to help change it? Where can you increase the love in this world? We all have a sphere of influence – what’s yours?


Wise Jesus

Matthew 4 1Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted[a]by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’[b]

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’[d]

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’[e]

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.


  1. Matthew 4:1 The Greek for tempted can also mean tested.
  2. Matthew 4:4 Deut. 8:3
  3. Matthew 4:6 Psalm 91:11,12
  4. Matthew 4:7 Deut. 6:16
  5. Matthew 4:10 Deut. 6:13

Jesus had just been baptized – we talked about his baptism a little while ago. It ended with the heavens opening up and a dove coming down on Jesus and a voice saying that he was God’s beloved and that God was pleased with him.

Today’s story takes place immediately after the baptism. This story is a little different than some of the other stories in the Bible. It is not intended to be read literally. The devil is not a person type of figure with horns and a tail. I think the devil made himself into a caricature so that we wouldn’t take him seriously, even though we totally should. The devil can be thought of as the tempter sitting on our shoulder telling us to do the things we shouldn’t do. The devil is a spirit. So this is one of those stories that is true in its message, but not true in that it happened just like this in reality. A little like a story with a message. Temptation is a wrestling match with our conscience.

So immediately after his baptism, THE SPIRIT – the spirit of God, that other part of the Trinity – leads Jesus into the wilderness for testing – to see if he was ready for his ministry. Jesus prepares by fasting. God tests, and the devil tempts. Here, the devil is under the control of God. The 40 days are a common term in the Bible. 40 generally can be interpreted to mean “a long time.” So when the Israelites wandered in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt, they wandered there for 40 years – or a very long time. Same here.

We have wilderness experiences too. Sometimes, these are orchestrated by God to test us. And just as with Jesus, these tests in the wilderness are not to punish us. But I believe that sometimes God tests us. Sometimes to see if we’re ready for next steps, to see if we’ve learned something. God does not tempt us. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

Another way to illustrate Jesus’ words “Lead us not into temptation” goes like this: you take your little children grocery shopping with you and you come to the candy aisle. You know that taking your children down that aisle will only stir up greediness in their hearts and lead to bouts of whining and wailing. In wisdom, you take another route—whatever you may have needed down the candy aisle will have to wait for another day. In this way you avert unpleasantness and you spare your children a trial. It’s recognizing that we naturally grasp for things that are not good for us and that God’s wisdom can stop our obnoxious bellyaching.

First temptation: Jesus is tempted to turn stones into bread because he is hungry – how many of us would think that is reasonable? I would! But Jesus thought that maybe there was something more important than bread right then and there. He said that we don’t live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from God. We are alive not because we eat, but because God gives us life. He also said, “31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [Matt 6] God is more important. For sure, Jesus fed thousands of people at other times, but here, he is not giving in to feeding his gut. Not now. In comparison, when the Israelites were in the desert, they grumbled loudly until God gave them manna – bread from heaven – as their daily food. They didn’t trust God to provide.

Second temptation: Then the devil took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem – he has no boundaries as to where he will tempt anyone. Note that we are not safe in church either. We can be tempted anywhere, any time and in any way. The devil quotes scripture out of the Bible to prove his point! But Jesus proves to be wiser. Jesus/God is the author of scripture and not only does Jesus know it inside out and backwards, but he also has the right interpretation of it. We don’t. We might want to test God, to see if we can manipulate him to do what we want. Honouring God excludes manipulation. Just like Jesus would be forcing God to protect him if he decided to jump. God doesn’t work like that. God is not a magician or a genie, someone who attracts followers with gimmicks and tricks. God asks us to trust him, that God is faithful and that he will give us what we need and always be with us and always, always love us.

The third test has to do with compromising. The devil offered Jesus worldly power if he would worship him. That’s just not happening with Jesus! But how often are we tempted that way? How often are we offered worldly power and we turn our back on God and God’s commands because we want that thing?

And when the test is over, God’s angels attend to him. He did well. He followed God’s commands. We do well too when we follow God’s commands. There are many places in the Bible where it says to “follow God’s commands so that it may go well with you” That is God’s desire. That is why we are called to love God, and our neighbour as ourselves. God wants our lives to go well. That is why Jesus came to live in the world – to show us what that looks like. He has his priorities lined up with God’s (he is one with him after all) Jesus is the embodiment/expression of the wisdom of God. Jesus is wise beyond all measure. Jesus is also known as “Logos”, or “the Word of God” – since we can’t physically see or hear God, and people a long time ago could in Jesus, we know this is true. The beautiful thing is that the Bible is also the word of God – the written word that tells us about the living Word. So even though the Bible isn’t complete like Jesus is, we can learn a lot of God’s wisdom from it. God’s wisdom given to us in the Bible is God’s gift to us – a roadmap/instruction manual for living life well. And when we take the Bible to heart, we will become more like Jesus, who is the heart of the Bible.

Jesus’ temptations have to do with the cultural reality of his day: food security, power, and compromise. Our temptations look very different than those of Jesus because we live in a very different world; the pressures from our culture to conform are very different. But the underlying temptation is the same. The temptation to treat God as less than God, to not fully trust Him, to make compromises with the ways of the world.

God loves you so much, God tells us how to live so that we will do well. It is our choice to obey or disobey. There are consequences either way – good and bad. If we all lived and loved perfectly, the way God loves us, our world would be like God’s kingdom. That is why Jesus said, when he first started his ministry, “to repent, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Remember the word repent? What song did we sing to remember? (Hokey Pokey) Because Jesus came to earth to show us what it looked like to follow the spirit of the Law instead of the letter of the law, we see a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven. We get a taste of what that is like. When we make choices that align with Jesus, we experience real joy, even in hardship.

The apostle Paul was famous for saying things like that. He talks about joy all the time, even when he is in jail waiting to be killed. He is not defined by his circumstances, and neither are we! Our hard times, our suffering, does not define us. We are children of God, loved no matter what. Jesus died for our sake. Jesus had said to his disciples one day, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Jesus laid down his life for all of us. Knowing that makes all of life easier, even joyful. Listening to Jesus, becoming wise like him, makes our lives go well, as God intended from the very beginning.

Compassionate Jesus

The Woman caught in Adultery

John 8:2-11   2 Early in the morning Jesus came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5 Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Jesus was teaching the crowds at the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus attracts people with his wisdom and compassion. People from all over are drawn to him. This makes other people jealous. They want to be in the limelight, they think that their points of view are better. They do what they can to reclaim center stage. So they purposefully disrupt Jesus’ teaching at the temple. They bring a woman into their midst, one who was caught in the very act of adultery. She’s most likely not dressed properly. Likely freaked out and scared to death. She knew as well as they did what the consequence was for getting caught – death by stoning. Jesus knew that too.

But the quote-unquote religious people reminded Jesus anyway what the Law said for this situation and tried to trick Jesus. They said, “Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women.” But Jesus knew that this is only half of what the Law of Moses said. In the Old Testament, the part of the Bible that took place before Jesus was born, in the book called Deuteronomy, chapter 22, verse 22 “If a man is caught lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman as well as the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. So where was the man? I’m pretty sure it takes 2 people to commit adultery. Was it possibly one of them? Had one of the accusers slept with her in order to trap her in the act, so they’d have a pawn with whom they could trap Jesus?

The point is though that there is no accused man there. The scribes and Pharisees only brought the woman. They didn’t follow all of the law. The man was absent and eyewitnesses weren’t called. Technically they could not stone her because they didn’t meet all the requirements. Obedience to the Law of Moses in this instance actually meant letting the woman go! Their plan was flawed from the start. But they pressed on regardless.

So the trap they set for Jesus is as follows: If Jesus were to say that the woman should be stoned, then he would get in trouble with the Romans, who had taken away the Jewish people’s right to capital punishment. Only Romans could execute people these days, and you didn’t want to get on their wrong side. But if Jesus said to let the woman go free, to be consistent with his message of God’s love and mercy, Jesus would be transgressing the Law of Moses the way they saw it.

Remember last time we met, we talked about Jesus coming to fulfill the Law, and not to get rid of it. He came to take the Law that had made people legalistic and hard and show them that the Law was intended to bring love and compassion into the society. So Jesus couldn’t very well just dismiss the Law if he had come to fulfill it, right? Of course Jesus upholds the Law of Moses; he is God; he is part of the team that wrote the law in the first place. Yes, the woman was caught in adultery, but there is neither the guy she was with nor eye witnesses. Her case wouldn’t even stand in court and Jesus knows it.

Jesus, of course, also knew they had come to trap him. But Jesus is much smarter than them. For Jesus, for God, the world looks different than it does for us. We like to divide things into opposites: white and black, rich and poor, straight and gay, male and female, right and wrong. But God doesn’t see the world in these terms. God sees human beings, all intimately loved. All of us beautiful, broken, flawed sinners, but most importantly, deeply loved. That is how God sees everyone! That is how God sees the woman and the crowds who come to hear him and even the scribes and Pharisees.

Some Christians use the term “Third Way” when they talk about Jesus. God’s way is a third way. Not this way or that way, not black and white, but God’s way. And God’s way is different than we often think. Jesus isn’t concerned with winning an argument. Jesus is on the business of winning souls, of showing God’s love. So he doesn’t even enter the argument. Instead, he does nothing. He write in the sand. Very curious. He ignores the accusers, the woman, and the crowds. He hunches down and writes in the sand. The story doesn’t tell us what he writes, so that’s not important. The scribes and Pharisees didn’t like the turn of events. They kept badgering him. So finally, Jesus looked up and told them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Why would he say that? Has he just declared open season?

What has Jesus done by saying that? So those who had set up this trap for Jesus were likely thinking along these lines: Who gets to throw the first stone? Can there be a second stone without a first one? Who is sinless among us? No one? Really? Absolutely no one? Ok, now we’ve been outwitted. If none of us can throw a stone, then what? How can Jesus even say that? He just called everyone a sinner! (Surprise! We are all sinners)

The apostle Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans that the wages of sin is death. Death is what you earn by sinning. And absolutely every human being falls in that category.  The scribes and Pharisees come to the realization that they too are sinners. They too deserve to die, just like the woman. Just like all of us. But that’s not the way of Jesus. Jesus is all about love and compassion and life. He wants a relationship with all of us. Jesus/God loves us like a mother loves her baby. Only perfectly. We all know we’re not perfect mothers, but God is. AND God wants nothing more than for us to also love Him.

So Jesus lets the Pharisees go. And the scribes. He extends them grace and mercy. Even after what they tried to do to the woman and to Jesus! He doesn’t condemn them. Through his silence, they take the time to think about it, and they realised that they were no better than this woman. They know they are not right with God. One by one they leave. They all leave and by leaving, they all admit that they are sinners.

And so the woman is left alone with Jesus. It doesn’t say, but I wonder if the crowd is still there – the crowd that Jesus had been teaching earlier. I wonder if they all witnessed the departure of the scribes and Pharisees, their admition of being sinners. I wonder what that means to them. What they are to do with that knowledge. I wonder if that means we’re all in that same boat, whether we are religious, whether we try to be good, or whether we get caught doing something we know is bad. We are all in the same boat. And like Paul said, what you deserve is punishment.

But then, Jesus says that he doesn’t condemn the woman either. The only person there who could have thrown the first stone because he is sinless doesn’t go there either. He tells her to go and not sin anymore. .Jesus grants pardon, not acquittal, since the call to leave off sinning shows he knew she was indeed guilty. He gave her her life. He wants her to live, not die. God is all about life, not death. In the mind of God, righteousness and justice are grounded in grace. Whenever grace is removed, we are left with the heartless hypocrisy of the Pharisees. Jesus Christ didn’t overturn the Law. Instead, He re-established righteousness (being right with God) on the basis of grace. He told the woman to stop sinning so that she would be right with God.

Remember last time we did the Hokey Pokey? Why did we do that? To give the kids an idea of what turning around looks like. That’s what Jesus/God calls us to do. To turn around, to change our thinking from black and white to consider mercy and grace in our everyday living, just like Jesus did for this woman. To follow the Law, but through the eyes of Jesus. To love God, to love our neighbour, and to love ourselves because we are infinitely loved by the one who made us. We are lovable, beautiful sinners whose sins have been covered. They don’t affect our relationship with God because Jesus removed that barrier between us. All we need to do is believe that Jesus has broken down that barrier, to feel the love of God, and to love God back. Loving God is revealed through our love for others and ourselves. How simple and how beautiful.

Jesus says to you … and to us … Go and sin no more. I have written a new identity and a new future for you in the dust and dirt of this life.

Understood rather than condemned. Saved rather than stoned. Sin exposed yet covered in His love. – How about you?





Divine Jesus

[Based on the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 3]

Surely you have heard of baptism? What is that all about? Jews practiced baptism as well as Christians. It’s an age-old practice. – So Christians continued this practice. Different Christian churches do it differently – some dunk your whole self, some sprinkle a little water on the head. But all baptism is symbolic – it stands for something. It stands for a desire to change.

The NIV says to ‘repent’. It means to turn around, to go in the opposite direction, The Message translation says to ‘change your life.’ It is a deliberate turning from one way of living to another. From sin to righteousness. (We’ll talk more about that word in a bit). The original Greek word meant to change one’s mind – the Greeks were big thinkers. But the Hebrew word – the language of the Jewish people – has more heart than head meaning – for them, ‘repent’ meant to change one’s heart, one’s will, and one’s behaviour. It was a top-to-bottom change.

So why did Jesus get baptised then?

Jesus had no need to be baptized—just as he had no need to be born, to suffer, or to die—but he did all that in order to reveal himself to us, to show God to us. The baptism, in other words, was a sign for the world. When Jesus came to the Jordan River, he came as the son of a carpenter. But the proclamation of the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove showed him to be far more than a mere carpenter. He was officially and for all to see identified as the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour.

Because Jesus is the Son of God, he doesn’t need to change – he’s already God! I think that is why John the Baptist (not John the gospel writer) had a hard time with it and asked Jesus to baptise him instead.) John knew he wasn’t perfect, but that Jesus was.

Jesus told John to baptise him “to fulfill all righteousness.” (MSG: God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.)

It took me years to understand the word ‘righteousness.’ But I believe that to put it simply, it means ‘being right with God.’ So Jesus fulfilling all righteousness by being baptized means that he will be right with God if he does this. Jesus fulfills The Law by being baptized.

We talked a lot about doing what The Law says last time, when we were talking about Jesus’ presentation in the temple as an infant – his parents did everything that the law prescribed, and that made them ‘right with God.’ The Law is in essence the 10 Commandments. – Loving God, not having idols, not murdering people, or lying, or being envious, honouring your parents, etc. God gave those laws to the ancient Israelites after they left slavery behind in Egypt. God gave those laws to them because he loved them. God knows that if we follow his laws, then life will be good, there will be peace on earth as it is in heaven. The laws were to set people free, not to burden them.

We don’t have to look very far to know that isn’t the way the world is, right? People still murder, lie, and don’t obey God’s laws. Jesus was well aware of that in his own time too, as was John the Baptist. Look at the way John speaks to the Pharisees and Sadducees. He calls them snakes – that was not a compliment then either. These people were those who allegedly followed The Law better than anyone else. But John and Jesus saw right through them. Because the biggest problem with them was that they followed the letter of the law, but their heart wasn’t in it. Their heart was off in the opposite direction – hell bound! They had changed the law from something beautiful, that was freeing and life-giving to something burdensome and condemning. They added details so that nobody could manage it. And they got to decide who did well and who failed – not God.

Jesus insisted on being baptized to fulfill the law – to do what the law prescribed, even though technically he didn’t need to for the forgiveness of sin. But he wanted to follow God’s law as an example for the rest of us. Jesus lived to be an example for everyone – how to live righteously, how to live ‘right with God’ so that we might live life well! So that we too might have peace and love and joy!

So there is a conundrum here. If the Pharisees and the Sadducees were the best at following The Law that God had given Moses, but they were called snakes, and yet Jesus sets the example for us by following the law – what gives?

That’s where the Hebrew understanding of the word ‘repent’ makes a big difference. Remember that the Greek word meant to change one’s mind but in Hebrew, ‘repent’ meant to change one’s heart, one’s will, and one’s behaviour – that top-to-bottom, through-and-through change. The Pharisees and the Sadducees did not have a change of heart. It was all in their heads. They followed the law ruthlessly, and they were cruel and hateful all while following the letter of the law. That was not God’s intent.

Some Christians believe that Jesus did away with the law. But that is not true either. In Ezekiel chapter 11, a prophet who lived hundreds of years before Jesus, it is written, “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.”

Jesus told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). Matthew 5:17-18 CEV (contemporary English) “Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. Heaven and earth may disappear. But I promise you that not even a period or comma will ever disappear from the Law. Everything written in it must happen.” Jesus did not come to this earth to oppose the law. His goal was to fulfill it. He revered it, loved it, and obeyed it perfectly. The law’s divine design, God’s design, will accomplish the purpose for which it was given – kingdom living.

Jesus fulfilled all of the law. Both in His life and in His teaching, Jesus fulfilled the law. He demonstrated God’s law by His perfect example and gave it its full meaning. He emphasized its deep underlying principles and the need for total commitment to it rather than mere external acknowledgment and obedience (like the Pharisees and the Sadducees). Jesus explains that until God’s plan to glorify humanity in His Kingdom is completely accomplished (second coming), that is, as long as there are still human beings, God’s law as given in the Bible is still necessary. Those who follow Christ and desire to be in His Kingdom are obligated to obey and uphold God’s law.

When Jesus was being tested one time, a lawyer asked him what the greatest commandment was. He was, of course, referring to the 10 Commandments. Jesus responded with” You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

To love God with all your heart, soul and might is to keep the Ten Commandments –not the letter of the Law but the spirit of the Law. If we love God with all our heart, soul and might, we will not have other Gods before Him, worship idols, or take His name in vain or deny God the quality time of Praise and Worship He wants from us on His Holy day. No! If we love our neighbour as ourselves, we will respect our parents, not murder, not sleep with another’s spouse, or steal, lie or covet anything that belongs to your neighbour. It is clear that if you love God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself you are keeping the Ten Commandments. This is why Jesus said that all of the law hangs on these two Commandments.

Loving your neighbour as yourself was not a “new” commandment and existed from the beginning but the level of love they needed to practise to be imitators of Christ was new in that they loved one another as Jesus loved them to the point of also being prepared to lay down their lives for each other as Jesus did for them and the whole world. So we find that Jesus not only magnified the law with what He spoke of in Matthew chapter 5 but He also taught that we need to demonstrate the same self-sacrificing love that he did – pretty difficult, I’d say! That is the mark of a true Christian. (BTW, none of us are that good, and God knows it)

Non-Christians often complain that Christians have all these rules that stifle life. Don’t do this, don’t do that. That is not the spirit of the law. God gave the laws to increase love in the world. To make the world a better place for everyone. Imagine if everyone loved their neighbour as themselves – there would be no stealing, no murder, no war, but instead there would be love, peace, and joy. God’s law, when practiced in the spirit that it was given in, brings peace, joy and love. That is why Jesus got baptized – in obedience to the law, to show us that the law is a beautiful thing, that it is life-giving!

Sign 6: Do You See?

John, Chapter 9 (all of it)

The disciples ask why the man is blind – they want to place blame. Jesus says it’s nobody’s fault. So that means that bad things happen for no reason, not because that person or his parents are sinners and are getting punished. The reason why he is blind is so that God can demonstrate that God exists and is involved in human lives. God through Jesus gives sight to the blind. Undisputed. Therefore, God exists. Everyone in the story agrees that only God can make the blind see. This blind man saw. Therefore, the only conclusion that can logically berawn is that God exists and that Jesus is from God/is God.

We can be like the Pharisees who don’t acknowledge that a miracle occurred. They only see that Jesus broke their Sabbath rules and therefore, they conclude that he cannot be the Son of God, that he is a sinner. They can’t imagine that there is a higher calling than obeying all their rules – that healing a blind person takes priority. That love is more important than rules. That doing the right thing and rejoicing over miracles trumps counting your steps. God said to keep the Sabbath holy. Who said that giving sight to the blind doesn’t fit that category? Jesus said God made the Sabath for us, it is a gift that is meant to restore us. Mark 2:27 says “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” The Sabbath was a day to take it slower, to listen for God in life. To notice miracles. Not to count your steps and make sure you’re not doing anything you shouldn’t be doing according to human rules. The Sabbath was not about rule keeping, it was about taking a day of rest. A time to reconnect with yourself, with your family, and a time to sit back and take notice of God in your life.

So my word for this year is PAUSE. It is exactly about that – Sabbath keeping – because it’s something I don’t do well. And the challenge is to not beat myself up about it, because it isn’t about keeping rules. It’s about being, and being still. Looking for God in the ordinary events of the day. Noticing everyday miracles. Opening up to the possibility that God loves you and wants the best for you and is actively involved in your life already. Praying to God to helps with that. So at the beginning of this year, to help with pausing, I started a prayer journal. I started writing down some prayers. I try to have a quiet time in the mornings, and sometimes it actually happens. So I sit down and think about what I want God to change in my life and in the lives of other people and I write those things down. I don’t make it a thing I “have to do” so it’s not like the Pharisees “have to do list”. Then I revisit the notes I’ve made and on the opposite page, if something has worked itself out, I write that down too. And more often than not, I realize that prayers are answered. Some sooner, others later, and others not yet, or I haven’t realized that the answer was something other than what I was waiting for. All of this helps me to pause, which helps me to see God in the world. Otherwise, I’d be blind like the Pharisees. They only see the rules, they don’t see God at work. That’s what Jesus was talking about at the end of the story – when they asked, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?” That’s exactly what he was saying.