Theme for Trinity Sunday: The three Persons of the One God at work in creation, mission and fellowship
See also page on Explaining the Trinity
Genesis 1:1-2:4 — God speaks into existence the world, its rhythms and also man in His image
Matthew 28:16-20 — Apprentices of Jesus are drawn from all kinds of people who become filled with Father, Son and Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 13:11-14 — Christians carry with them the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the belonging of the Holy Spirit.
Genesis 1:1-2:4 — God speaks into existence the world and its rhythms
Everything created was good, and also man in God’s image
1-2 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
“In the beginning God” – God exists, and existed before creating the universe.
“God created” – God is the plural subject of a singular verb, a mysterious twist which could allude to the Trinity. The word bara used for “created”, literally ‘fashion anew’, is only ever used of God.
3-5 And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness He called ‘night’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.
“And God said… and there was” – the absolute power of God, creating in His very words.
“Let there be light” – one of the principal themes of the Bible is that God puts light into darkness and confusion, here in the creation of the daily and weekly cycle.
“The light was good”– everything God does or creates comes out of His innate goodness, also vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25.
6-8 And God said, ‘Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.’ So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault ‘sky’. And there was evening, and there was morning – the second day.
“Vault” – expanse; the root meaning is a beaten metal covering or dome.
• For further study, “hard as a mirror” and “like a canopy”, Job 37:18, Isaiah 40:22.
9-10 And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land’, and the gathered waters He called ‘seas’. And God saw that it was good.
“Gathered” – God brings order out of chaos with the three domains of sky, sea and earth. The flood of Genesis 6 reverted to the previous chaos for that time.
11-13 Then God said, ‘Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.’ And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.
“Plants bearing seed… trees bearing fruit – creation, fruitfulness and reproduction are set in place for human and animal life to come.
14-19 And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day.
“He also made the stars” – Neighbouring cultures worshipped the stars but in God’s creation, He made them.
20-23 And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.’ So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ And there was evening, and there was morning – the fifth day.
“God created the great creatures of the sea” – which pagan cultures held to be co-eternal with their gods. Hebrew tanninim, creatures, elsewhere refers to crocodiles, powerful monsters or Leviathan – created by God and subject to His sovereignty.
24-25 And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
“Let us make” – God speaks for His heavenly court of angels, with language that foreshadows the Trinity, an understanding that came much later in God’s progressive revelation.
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.
“In our image” – each living part of creation is designed to reproduce “according to their kinds” and God’s supreme act of creation is creating mankind to share His attributes and qualities, including the rule of His creation, vv.28-29.
28 God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’
“Rule over… every living creature” – In ESV, “subdue… and have dominion”. The idea is investigating and finding the earth’s resources, a mandate for responsible scientific and technological development that respects God’s intentions. The strong term “subdue” (compare Zech. 9:15, Micah 7:19) conveys managing with God’s authority, perhaps foreshadowing sin and Satan’s attempts to gain control, which will need determined stewardship. Jesus’ saying about “violence” coming on God’s good order may reflect this, Matt. 11:12.
29-30 Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
“I give you every…” – repeating “every” and “all” emphasises the abundance of God’s provision.
31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
“Completed” – and perfect, needing no further work or revision, therefore “rest”, vv.2-3.
2-4 By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done. This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
“He rested” – the basis for the word Sabbath although that observance did not come until the giving of the Law, Exodus 20:8-11.
Our first picture of the Trinity is of God the creator of the universe, with the creative Spirit of God present and active over the formless waters. Where is Jesus the Son of God? Also present, although not mentioned in the Genesis account.
John tells us in the opening words of his gospel that Jesus, the Word – or fundamental purpose of God – was with Him in the beginning and instrumental in the creation, John 1:1-3.
The climax of this part of the story is the creation of man as thinking and feeling and caring like God, and given authority to manage earth’s resources well.
How might we seek answers from the Creator to climax change and pollution and energy management?
Matthew 28:16-20 — Disciples of Jesus are drawn from all kinds of people
Full of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they will continue Jesus’ work
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
“Eleven disciples” – following Judas’ suicide, Matt. 27:5.
17 When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.
“But some doubted – The eleven believed but this tells us that others accompanied them, possibly the appearance to more than 500 mentioned by Paul, 1 Cor. 15:6.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.
“All authority… has been given” – confirming Jesus’ deity and return to His exalted position as divine Son of God, connecting heaven and earth by His universal lordship.
19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
“Make disciples” – apprentices of Jesus who would learn to follow and do (better than obey) what Jesus taught and did helped by the Holy Spirit, like Jesus coaching them in person.
“The name” – singular, not names. This earliest Trinitarian verse means there is one true and undivided God who exists as the distinct persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The call to be a disciple of Jesus is spelt out in this passage – it is about making other disciples who learn to carry on the ministry of Jesus, who themselves encourage further disciples, and so on. How do we do that?
Those who come to a decision to trust what Jesus has done for them and invite Him to be the influencer of their lives will want to enter the water of baptism to celebrate their new life. That, says Jesus, is a transaction of all three Persons of the one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It is not a ritual but a transformation from the old life to the new, empowered to live it for Jesus, receiving the Father’s love, knowing the reality of Jesus in their lives, and being spiritually renewed.
Despite cruel persecution, the early church grew very rapidly – because this is the way it is designed to work.
How might grow more aware of the slightly different relationships we enjoy with Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 — Christians carry blessings of the three persons of God
Through Jesus we find God’s love and the oneness of the Holy Spirit
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
“Finally” – Paul’s concluding words in a letter about resolving relational difficulties urge living the life of the Spirit joyfully. The Holy Spirit leads into unity with generosity of attitude and a disposition to build others up, and bring out what God has put in them.
12-13 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.
“Holy kiss… God’s people”– literally the hagio kiss of the hagioi, the welcome of the saints. The custom for family reunions was, uniquely in the church, a way of showing acceptance, love and freedom from judgment, bridging differences of race, social standing and gender.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
“Grace… love… fellowship” – Paul varies the more familiar order to show that through the grace of Jesus, we come to experience the love of God, and receive the Holy Spirit. At the end of a letter dealing with conflicts at Corinth, he gives a succinct formula for the solution.
The special sense of belonging and oneness with other Christians creates a feeling of family that includes all the rich diversity that we bring as varied individuals. And so family-style greetings need no encouragement.
But that togetherness and affinity is the very area the devil will try to damage, and the as-yet-unrenewed carnality and competitiveness of the Corinth Christians opened that door to trouble.
We can read all about it in Paul’s letters, but the end of his final letter summarises with the remedy: grace towards others, like Jesus, with unconditional love, like the Father, is what releases the genuine fellowship that only the Holy Spirit brings, and leaves little room for the enemy to sow strife.
What does it look like to follow Paul’s instruction to “encourage one another”?
Father, I can draw near to You through knowing what Jesus has done for me, and my halting utterances become prayers of praise and joy and every other expression as I allow Your Holy Spirit to lead me.
May I grow in Your kind of unconditional love, and learn to treat others preferentially as Jesus does — and be a disciple who is always learning the trade with Jesus and encouraging others to be on His team.
Your kingdom come! Amen.
See also page on Explaining the Trinity
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Theme: Anticipating heaven as ‘living stones’ on earth
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 — Jesus anticipates heaven, using David’s words to trust God’s unfailing love
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 NIV text
John 14:1-14 — Jesus reminds the disciples they have a place prepared in heaven because they know Him and He is the Way
Acts 7:55-60 — Stephen in his dying moments sees heaven open with Christ standing to welcome him
1 Peter 2:2-10 — Disciples are the new priesthood, living stones who create a heavenly temple of God’s presence
Psalm 31:1–5, 15–16 – Jesus anticipates heaven with David’s words
Putting our life and times in God’s hands is to trust His unfailing love
1-2 In you, LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.
“Be my rock of refuge” – David laments abandonment by his closest friends in a devastating conspiracy.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
“For the sake of Your name” – it is God’s covenant reputation on the line, having promised through the prophet Nathan’s word to be with David, 2 Sam. 7:8–11.
4-5 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.
“Into Your hands” – For David, this was total dependence on God; also for Jesus, who spoke these words of David in His dying moments.
15 My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
“My times are in Your hands” – submitting to God all events, circumstances, and also timing.
16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
“Let Your face shine” – an expression of God’s favour, as in Aaron’s blessing.
• For further study, see Numbers 6:24–26; Psalms 4:6; 67:1; 80:1, 3, 7, 19; 97:11; 118:27; 119:135.
Is trust like faith or more like hope? More the latter, which is a confident expectation in God’s faithfulness. This is what Jesus, racked with pain, was expressing in His dying moments.
We, too, can choose to put our times in God’s hands.
Lord, I trust You – but help me in my moments of not trusting very well. Amen.
John 14:1–14 — Disciples have a place prepared in heaven
Jesus reminds them that they know Him and He is the Way
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in Me.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled” – after difficult news, John 13:33,36.
“Believe in God… also in Me” – Jesus’ simple but also profound solution to heart anxiety. “Believe” means personal, relational trust, as in the OT, Psalm 56:3-4; Isaiah 26:3-4.
2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
“My Father’s house” – like the son’s return to his father’s house in Luke 15. Jesus promised followers a welcome into “eternal dwellings”.
• For further study, see Luke 15:11-32, Luke 16:9, Rev. 21.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.
“I will come back” – Jesus’ second coming. If we believe in Him (v.1) we will be expected and He will return for us.
4 You know the way to the place where I am going.
“You know the way” – or you know the Way, anticipating what He will say, v.6
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus answered, “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
“I AM the Way” – an answer rich with double meanings. Jesus’ I AM sayings echo God’s revelation of Himself to Moses, Exodus 3:13-15, and signal His divine origins as Messiah. The Early Church were first known as followers of the Way.
“Except through Me” – the only way to God is through Jesus, Acts 4:12, an exclusive claim which does not sit well with our culture, but our reasoning must not invalidate what Jesus plainly states. Those who claim to know God but reject Jesus, do not know Him, John 5:39-47.
7 If you really know Me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”
“Know Me… know My Father” – to know Jesus is to know the Father.
• For further study, see John 5:37–38, John 8:19; 1 John 2:21.
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
“Seen Me… seen the Father” – Jesus, facing Philip in His humanity, clearly sets out His deity. Philip has yet to grasp that Jesus came to reveal the Father, John 1:14, 18, John 12:44-45.
10-11 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you I do not speak on My own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
“I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” – as explained in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one” where “one” is the neuter ‘one thing’, not one person. So one in essence, will and purpose — not identical persons. With the Holy Spirit, Matt. 28:19, 2 Cor. 3:14, the three distinct Persons constitute only one Being.
12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.
“Works” – Greek erga, meaning as well as signs and miracles, all of Jesus’ mission, teaching and merciful acts would continue.
“Greater things” – the Holy Spirit yet to be given would replicate and multiply the ministry beyond Palestine, worldwide.
13-14 And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.
“Ask in My name” – meaning coming to God in the will authority of Jesus, as those that are His. Our alignment with Him is the key to this arresting promise, not the form of words.
It is easy to be down on Thomas and Philip, from our vantage point of hindsight.
However we could also say that they asked honest, good questions – which have given us some of the clearest and most memorable answers by Jesus.
Jesus is the Way in two senses: He is the exact representation of what God is like, and believing and trusting Him is the way – the only way – to God.
How would you answer someone who rejected the exclusivity of Jesus being the only way to God?
Acts 7:55–60 – Stephen in his dying moments sees heaven open
Through the pain he sees Christ standing to welcome him
55-56 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
“Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit” – in sharp contrast to the religiosity but spiritual lack of his Sanhedrin prosecutors, who reacted to his demeanour in uncontrolled rage.
“Son of Man”, Daniel 7:13-14; Luke 22:69.
57-58 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.
“Began to stone him” – without trial and illegally, possibly supervised by the up-and-coming Pharisee Saul.
59-60 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
“Do not hold this sin against them” – strikingly similar to Jesus’ words “Father, forgive them…” on the Cross, Luke 23:34. Jesus greatly emphasised forgiving others, Matt 6:14-15; Mark 11:25; also Luke 11:4; 17:3-4; Matthew 18:21-35.
“He fell asleep” – a common NT way of conveying that death for believers is a transition, Luke 8:52; John 11:11; 1 Thess. 4:14-15.
Not many of us see into heaven before we get there, although there are arresting testimonies written about some people’s experiences.
Stephen was one such a special case – an outstandingly fruitful and courageous evangelist who was so Christ-focused he attracted the same hatred that had put his Lord on the Cross.
As he looked up into heaven, it is striking that he caught and expressed heaven’s attitude of mercy towards those who were motivated by hell to kill him stone by stone. He forgave them publicly, leaving us his example. Jesus gave the highest priority to us extending His grace and forgiving others.
Who do you find impossible to forgive? How do you think Stephen would counsel you on this?
1 Peter 2:2–10 – Living stones make a heavenly temple here on earth
Every believer is part of the new priesthood representing God to men
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
“Grow up in your salvation” – as healthy children feed and grow. Salvation is both an event (on deciding to entrust your life to Christ) and a lifelong process of Holy Spirit healing and freedom on the road to spiritual maturity.
4-6 As you come to him, the Living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.
“The Living Stone… you also, like living stones” – Peter describes the church as the new temple inhabited by the Holy Spirit of God. Every believer is a living stone aligned with Christ as Cornerstone – a picture of dependence and connection like Paul’s teaching on parts of the body connected to the Head.
“A holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices through Jesus Christ” – in the OT, access to God was restricted to priests born into the tribe of Levi. In the NT, there is a shift under the New Covenant in Jesus in which believers are reborn into God’s family to become a new kind of priesthood. This is shared by each and every believer who has invited Jesus into their hearts and lives and has ‘priestly’ access through their relationship with Him, and the spiritual sacrifices are now Spirit-led worship and service.
7-8 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message — which is also what they were destined for.
“This stone… the cornerstone… a stone to stumble” – three quotations about Christ as the authentic, irreplaceable foundation stone of the new temple, rejected by those closely aligned with the old temple and a barrier for those unwilling to submit to Jesus as Lord. God foreknew that not everyone would receive His Son; however everyone has the choice not to stumble but to step up on the rock.
• For further study, see Psalm 118; Matt. 21:42; Isaiah 8:14, 28:16; Romans 9:33.
9-10 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
“Chosen people, royal priesthood” – Peter redefines familiar OT labels. The people of Israel were the former “chosen people”, now in the NT they are the believers.
“God’s special possession” – all Christians are to be holy and set apart for service to the Lord as the OT priests were. Christians, through new birth, form a new ‘nation’ in enjoying a special and close relationship with God.
• For further study, read Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 4:20, 7:6, 14:2; Isaiah 43:10, 20-21; Malachi 3:17.
• See also page on ‘Explaining our identity as Christians – royal priesthood‘ which goes into more detail about the Bible teaching as distinct from historical church teaching.
Heaven is an attractive place – not because of the shining gold, or the brilliant light, or the incomparable praise and worship, but because heaven is full of the presence of God, full of the reality of the One who is the definition of love.
We are called to take a deep plunge of faith, trusting Jesus at the deepest level with our lives and being changed forever. It’s called being born again and it turns us into living stones, in Peter’s words, needed to take our place and be fitted with all the others that form this new temple of God’s presence on earth.
This is the way evangelism is designed to work – with us as this new priesthood between heaven and earth, showing the world a glimpse of something so attractive that it is hard to resist.
Does the way we do church and its language bear out Peter’s teaching on our status and call as people of light who are living in God’s mercy?
Lord Jesus, like Stephen we look up and we see Your scarred hands extended to us in welcome and we give our lives to You again. We put our times and our actions in Your hands, pledging to keep aligned with You as Your living stones, and to represent You to others as yet untouched by Your love. Thank You for being the Way, the Truth and the Life. Amen.
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April 5, 2020. Passion Sunday. TLW12A
Sunday Bible readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, shared across the denominations.
Theme: Jesus paid a high price for us to be able to call Him Lord
Read the passage first and let it speak for itself. The link takes you to the NIV text which combines accuracy with clarity. The order follows the sequence of the Bible, which is a progressive revelation from Old Testament, to a Gospel account, to the teaching of the early church who knew the perspective and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Following the Bible’s own sequence makes it much easier to grasp the overall thrust of what God is saying through it.
Then there are links to the verse-by-verse commentary and brief application.
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news knows God’s purpose will bring pain and shameful accusation – but also vindication
Matthew 27:11-54 — Following Pilate’s sentence, as Jesus surrenders His life on the Cross, an earthquake destroys the temple curtain
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus, the humble servant put to death under a curse and now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
And also read: Psalm 31:9-16
Isaiah 50:4-9 — The messenger of good news submits to God’s purpose
There will be pain, and shameful accusation – but also vindication
4-5 The Sovereign LORD has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens Me morning by morning, wakens My ear to listen like one being instructed. The Sovereign LORD has opened My ears; I have not been rebellious, I have not turned away.
“A well-instructed tongue” – in this third Servant Song the Messiah, submissive to God, is being perfected through unwavering persistence.
“The word that sustains the weary” – refers back to an earlier prophecy, that the Lord, “who will not grow tired or weary”, sends His messenger with the good news that “He gives strength to the weary”, Isaiah 40:28-31.
6 I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting.
“I offered My back” – and other torment, what Jesus experienced at His crucifixion, Matthew 26:67, 27:30.
“Mocking” – see Matt. 27:27-31 (below).
7 Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.
“Shame” – at first, but the servant foresees the God-ordained outcome.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who then will bring charges against Me? Let us face each other! Who is My accuser? Let him confront Me!
“Vindicate” – or justifies. Christ fulfilled this prophecy. As the human but sinless Saviour, He is uniquely empowered to cancel charges brought against those who choose to belong to Him.
9 It is the Sovereign LORD who helps Me.
This preview of what Jesus went through for us, helps us regain God’s perspective when we are wearied by the constant attacks of the enemy of our souls.
“Who is My accuser?” is the language of a legal victory in a courtroom. “Accuser” is similar in meaning to satan, adversary, reminding us that our spiritual enemy relies on finding legal grounds to oppress (our sin) and is stymied by the removal of those grounds (by finding grace, in Jesus).
When life is draining and we feel discouraged, where do those thoughts come from?
Matthew 27:11-54 — Pilate sentences Jesus to be flogged and crucified
As He surrenders His life, an earthquake rips apart the temple curtain
11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are You the king of the Jews?”
“You have said so,” Jesus replied.
“The governor” – the Roman historian Tacitus records Christ’s execution after sentencing by the prefect Pilate “in the reign of Tiberius”. The blasphemy accusation held little sway for a Roman official, so the Jews framed Jesus as a political rebel deserving of death.
12-14 When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against You?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge — to the great amazement of the governor.
“Great amazement” – Pilate has not encountered a defendant who did not plead for mercy; if allegations of treason were true, Pilate would have been forewarned.
15-16 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas.
17-18 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him.”
“That innocent man” – a disturbing nightmare was a significant sign to people of that time, Roman law was clear that an innocent man should not be put to death, and Pilate’s judicial instinct told him the charges were constructed. Yet he was more influenced by fear of the crowd.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas, and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify Him!”
23 “Why? What crime has He committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”
“Why?” – Pilate clearly thought the crowd would want the release of a doer of good, rather than Barabbas, seen as a violent robber in Mark 15:7, John 18:40. The crowd that noisily acclaimed Jesus as He entered the city, now proved strangely fickle.
24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
“His blood is on us” – the self-curse found fulfilment among those present in the Jerusalem’s bloodshed and destruction in AD 70 (but is not an indictment against Jews in general).
26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.
“Flogged” – Roman flogging was so brutal it sometimes killed the victim. The “By His stripes” quotation about our healing being in Jesus’ wounding sees this as part of the execution, Isaiah 53:5. 1 Peter 2:24.
27-29 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around Him. They stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on His head. They put a staff in His right hand. Then they knelt in front of Him and mocked Him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said.
“Mocked Him” – Isaiah 50:6 (above). His trial by the Jews, Matt. 26:67-68, mocked Him as a prophet; now He is mocked as king. See also vv. 37-44 below.
• For further study: Jesus’ unique spiritual authority combines that of prophet, priest and king, Hebrews 1:1, Hebrews 10, and Hebrews 2:8.
• Read also Isaiah 52:13-53:12.
30-31 They spat on him, and took the staff and struck Him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Him, they took off the robe and put His own clothes on Him. Then they led Him away to crucify Him.
32-34 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced Him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it.
“A man from Cyrene, named Simon” – Simon, from N. Africa, is named as someone later known in the community of believers.
The place of the skull” – either a skull-like rocky place, or where skulls remained from previous executions – or both. None of the gospels mentions a hill.
35-37 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
38 Two rebels were crucified with Him, one on His right and one on His left. Those who passed by hurled insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
41-43 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked Him. “He saved others,” they said, “but He can’t save Himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
“Let God rescue Him” – “let God deliver Him”, an allusion to Psalm 22:8.
44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with Him also heaped insults on Him.
“Rebels… crucified with Him” – as predicted, He was “numbered with the transgressors,” Isaiah 53:12, Luke 22:37.
45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”).
“Why have You forsaken Me?” – Jesus had to experience the full extent of God’s wrath (holy requirement for justice) for the sins of humanity – possibly the bitterest blow of all. Matthew translates the Aramaic for us.
47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
48-49 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave Him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save Him.”
50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up His spirit.
“Cried out” – not anguish but the victory shout of “It is finished!”, John 19:30. Jesus had completed His purpose in coming into the world and in this tortured death had settled the redemption charge for the sin of all mankind.
51-53 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
“Curtain” – the Holy of Holies in the Temple was divided off by heavy woven barrier; remarkably the earthquake ripped it. At this point, the order of priesthood was made redundant because through Jesus it was now possible for every believer to come into God’s presence, needing no other intermediary.
• For further study, see Ephesians 2:11-22; Hebrews 6:19; Hebrews 9:1-10:25.
54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely He was the Son of God!”
“Terrified” – the earthquake, and the prisoner like no other, revealed the divine connection.
Any one part of what Jesus took on Himself is too much for us – false accusation, shame, brutality at the whipping post – and the horror of dying a cursed death on a cross taunted by mockers. Jesus knew it would be horrific. Yet He understood that He had to satisfy the wrath, the legal remedy of justice, for His Father. Only a sinless human being could pay the price for us to know Him as Savour and as Lord, – and Jesus did.
Given the enormity of what Jesus did for us, what inhibits us from joy and praise?
Philippians 2:5-11 — How God became man in Jesus
The servant put to death under a curse is now honoured as Lord of heaven and earth
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6-7 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
“Being in very nature God” – this hymn of praise contrasts Jesus’ pre-existence and divinity with His incarnate existence in which “He made Himself nothing” in human likeness, but drew on the Holy Spirit’s empowering. We can live above ourselves with Jesus-like love for others, continuing His ministry, by the enabling of the same Holy Spirit.
8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
“Even death on a cross” – Jesus went voluntarily to the most shameful of deaths possible for a Jew. This divine exchange included coming under a curse from God on our behalf, Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13.
9-11 Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“Jesus Christ is Lord” – “Lord” refers to the right to rule. Disciples of Jesus “bow the knee” by acknowledging His Lordship of our lives, as well as all creation.
How do we go about having the same mindset as Jesus? This praise hymn to Jesus both raises the question, and ends with the answer, which is about celebrating His Lordship of us.
Like the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” When we hold someone in awe, we’ll want to do what they do and take on their values. This sets us wanting to live above ourselves – and welcoming the enabling of the Holy Spirit, the Helper, makes it possible.
Calling Jesus our Lord is not, ultimately about obedience. That is being a Pharisee. It is about loving who He is so much, that we WANT to grow like Him.
Which comes first, doing what Jesus says, or being with Him and wanting to grow more like Him?
Father God, we are so grateful for Jesus, making a way for us to You in such a horrific self-sacrifice, so we can have fellowship with Him as Lord of our lives.
We thank you, too, that in Jesus we have His authority to say ‘no’ to evils like the present pandemic, and a welcoming ‘yes’ to what we hear You saying.
Humbly we give You charge of our lives again — and volunteer again as junior partners in Your saving strategy. Amen.
The Living Word 09A for Sunday, March 8, 2020
Theme: How to be completely accepted by Almighty, holy God
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Genesis 12:1-4a – God promises to make a nation through Abram, who takes God at His word and sets off to the unknown
John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells Nicodemus, ‘the teacher of Israel’, that even he needs to be born again spiritually to enter the kingdom of God
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – Like Abraham, we are made right with God by believing Him, not by any merit from our good works
Also read: Psalm 121
Genesis 12:1-4a – God promises Abram to make a nation through him
Taking God at His word he set off for a new land
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“The Lord” — Yahweh, explained later in Moses’ encounter, Exodus 3:14-15.
“Go from your country” — God spoke to Abram about leaving “while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Harran”, Acts 7:2. His name occurs in other ancient texts from 20th-19th centuries B.C.
2-3 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
I will make… I will bless…” — A sevenfold promise expanding the LORD’s original blessing of the whole human race, Gen. 1:28 into a covenant which is largely just on God’s side (unlike others), and everlasting.
4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.
“Abram went” — with limited understanding of what God was saying; a model of faith which obeys and trusts understanding to follow.
Believing God is always a step into what we do not know – otherwise it would not be believing. Abram’s willingness to trust God’s purpose absolutely, leaving a settled existence to seek an unknown destination in another land, leaves us wondering how we would respond. God was clear about the outcome of Abram responding in faith – he would know God’s blessing and also become part of God’s blessing to others. But we are left with the sense that Abram understood very little about his unique call. And that’s the point: faith doesn’t seek to understand everything first.
- Faith is able to trust God to work out the details. “So Abram went, as the LORD had told Him…”.
Do you want God to show you the whole map before you set off on the journey?
Page with additional detail and Bible reference links
John 3:1-17 – Jesus tells ‘the teacher of Israel’ even he must be born again
Nicodemus learns that spiritual regeneration is the way into the kingdom
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.
“Nicodemus” – an influential, educated and genuine-hearted lay representative of the Jewish religious establishment. A wealthy person of this name is mentioned in other Jewish sources of this period.
2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with Him.”
“He came… at night” –- for privacy and a longer discussion than crowds would allow. John also suggests the double meaning, as he does elsewhere, that there is a spiritual darkness, out of which Nicodemus seeks to escape.
“Rabbi” – remarkable respect from a renowned teacher, v.10 below, to a Galilean not formally trained as a rabbi.
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“See” – perceive, recognise, or simply enter.
“Born again” – also “born from above” e.g. The Message which helps to answer Nicodemus’ question, below. This is a spiritual birth, a faith transaction in which the human spirit is kindled into spiritual life by the Holy Spirit, vv. 5-6.
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
“How…” – difficult to understand from human perspective and life experience.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.
“Born of water and the Spirit” – made clean and made spiritually alive, a spiritual regeneration that comes about only as a result of an intentional decision to trust Christ. In Paul’s letter to Titus is the “trustworthy saying” describing rebirth as washing, Titus 3:4-7. Nicodemus could not have understood this as a reference to baptism. Christian baptism, from Pentecost onwards, is an intentional, symbolic dying to the old life and rising to the new, after receiving Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
6. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’
“You (singular) should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You (plural) must be born again.’ ” – Jesus is saying that Nicodemus and all the Jewish ruling council he represents need spiritual rebirth to see the kingdom of God, and grasp the nature of His call – and applies this to all people.
8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
“Wind blows wherever it pleases” – Heb. Ruach and Gk pneuma means both wind and Spirit. We cannot control how the wind blows; nor the new birth, which is, in effect, the opposite – relinquishing control to God.
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
“Do you not understand” – emphasised, because Nicodemus the teacher should have known from Scriptures familiar to him, about new birth allusions in the breath (Spirit) entering the dry bones of Ezekiel 37, and the heart of stone replaced by a new living heart with the Holy Spirit indwelling and enabling, in both Ezekiel and Jeremiah.
• For further study, see Deuteronomy 30:6, Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Ezekiel 37.
11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.
“We speak of what we know” – not hearsay. Jesus focuses on how believing faith, more than intellect, is needed to receive this teaching.
12-13 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man.
“Gone into heaven… came from heaven” – like Proverbs 30:4, “Who has gone up to heaven and come down… what is His name?” Only Jesus descended from heaven and then returned there (on His ascension, Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9).
14-15 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.”
“Lifted up” – the first of three uses by John of this phrase. Another double meaning: Jesus “lifted up” on the Cross to die for us, and His “lifting” in resurrection and also exaltation to the highest place of honour. The Israelites, afflicted by venomous snakes in the desert, were commanded to look up at the bronze serpent and believe that God would save them; so we are to look at Christ, “lifted up” on the Cross and believe what He has done for us, to gain life spiritually and eternally. A way of understanding the new spiritual birth.
• For further study, read Numbers 21:4-9
16 For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
“God… loved the world” – a truth at the foundation of Christian faith. God’s love is without condition and extends to “so loving the world”, which must include “whoever” does not know Him, or who opposes Him before they come to believe: He loves us first, 1 John 4:9-10.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.
“Not… to condemn the world” – Jewish people believed that the end of the age would bring both judgment and salvation with eternal life. But in Jesus those promises start to take effect, with salvation and new life starting in the present, through new spiritual birth.
Abram (who became Abraham) came into in right relationship with God, simply by what he believed. Or to put it another way, by trusting God with his life. This is what Jesus encouraged the renowned “teacher of Israel” and wealthy man of business, Nicodemus, to take hold of when he visited Jesus privately. What God is looking for in us is usually a lot less complicated than we want to make it. That was certainly true for Nicodemus, and for Pharisees generally, who maintained an oral tradition of layer upon layer of ‘good practices’ that had been constructed as a way to keep the law perfectly. Except that it missed the point: the Law of Moses was a rule-based way of trying to define a relationship between loving, merciful God and somewhat wayward man. Jesus told this worthy teacher, “You must be born again”. Rules and strict observance cannot change us spiritually – only the Holy Spirit does that. Nicodemus simply needed a new spiritual start to be put in right standing with almighty and holy God. Now that he had met Jesus, he needed to believe, accept and trust who Jesus was.
- It’s the same for us – we need to meet Jesus, acknowledge what He has done for us that we (like Nicodemus) could never do, and receive Him as Lord. No one else can do that for us – it is simply our decision, to invite Him in.
In what way have you been a good observing person like Nicodemus? Why does that not have the power to bring new life?
Link page on how Nicodemus was reminded by Jesus of teaching he already knew
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17 – Like Abraham we are made right with God by faith
The gift of God comes only by believing, not by any merit from good works
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter?
“Abraham, our forefather” – the Father of the Jewish nation is now Father of faith to all believers.
2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God.
“Justified by [good] works” – Over the centuries the faith of the patriarch ancestors had degenerated into a ‘works-righteousness’ where keeping the many rules (like Nicodemus) had taken the place of the faith relationship with God. In Jewish writings familiar to Paul’s contemporaries, Abraham had been wrongly portrayed as someone justified by his good works (e.g. in the non-canonical Apocrypha writings 1 Maccabees 2:52, Sirach 44:19-21).
3 What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
“Abraham believed God” – Paul quoting Genesis 15:6, where nothing is mentioned about works, Paul shows Abraham to be the example of righteousness to follow, because of his relationship with God. Abraham kept no law, carried out no service and performed no ritual that earned credit to his account with God. His righteousness was awarded simply on the basis of his believing faith, a model now for Christians.
4-5 Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
“The one who works… the one who… trusts God” – wages received for work are earned, not a gift. By contrast, what God gives is gracious (unearned and undeserved) and a gift. Therefore people cannot be declared righteous because of their good works.
“Credited”– a financial/legal word much used in this chapter, which means to add to the account something that belongs to another. The implication of these verses is shocking, because in God’s accounting He breaks the world’s rules and grants salvation to, or justifies, His ungodly enemies turning to Him in faith.
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.
“Abraham… received the promise” – of Genesis 12:2-3 (above), but not by fulfilling any condition, but by believing and acting on it.
14-15 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
“Depend on the law… [depend on] faith” – opposites: believing faith and good works are mutually opposed, because faith trusts in God’s work, rather than relying on ours.
“Law brings wrath” – for ‘wrath’ understand ‘judgment’. The nature of the law (as opposed to grace) is to flag up every transgression for judgment.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring — not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.
“By faith… by grace” – faith and grace go together, as do the opposites, law and judgment.
“Of the law… also…those that have the faith of Abraham” – Abraham is the Father of the Jews but also of those (non-Jews) who share his faith but not the law.
17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed – the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
“Gives life… and calls into being things that were not” – different expressions of the same idea. Isaac’s birth to Abraham and Sarah, a life called out of two people well past childbearing; Christ crucified and dead, then called into being in resurrection. God has the ability to create out of nothing. He has the ability to confer life on those spiritually dead in sin – the new birth, John 3:3, 7, 14-16.
In his teaching to believers in Rome, Paul addresses the human desire to aspire to righteousness by a “depending on the law”, meaning human striving with expectation of some credit for it. His shocking answer is that God applies that credit to those who clearly have not earned it. Thoroughly undeserving people find salvation by simply trusting God and not doing anything else! The message for us is direct but also a little difficult: we must root out every strand of entitlement, and every every tendency to man-centred righteousness,. It is the lesson of Abraham, of Nicodemus and now taught to the early church by Paul.
- The promise of new life and eternal life is secured by God’s definition of righteousness, not ours – the righteousness that comes by faith.
Is Christ’s church a gathering of people like us, or is it for us to serve people not like us who are finding their way to faith?
Thank You so much, Father, for making a way for me to be accepted by You in a way I never could have achieved – through believing and accepting Jesus. I hear again Your command to be born of Your Spirit, that I may be counted as being in right standing with you – by faith, nothing more or less. Once again I surrender my baggage of unbelief and accept Your invitation of grace, gladly Jesus, in Your name. Amen.
Sunday, March 1, 2020 TLW08A
Theme: God presents us with choices, whether or not to rely on Him
Sunday readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. First read the passage in its entirety (NIV text) and let it speak for itself; then, the links below take you to the verse-by-verse commentary.
Read Matthew 4:1-11
Read Romans 5:12-19
Also WISDOM READING: Psalm 32
Breaking trust with God in the Garden of Eden introduces sin into the world
15-17 The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
“To work it and take care of it” – humanity’s dignifying occupation, responsibilities later applied to the tabernacle.
• For further study, read Leviticus 8:35; Numbers 3:5-8, 8:26.
“The LORD God commanded the man” – the first covenant decree in the Bible. God bound Himself to provide freely from the park-like garden; the man’s acceptance bound him to the one condition, trusting God’s judgment and provision by not eating the fruit of one particular tree.
“You are free… but…” – Typical words of a covenant in the Bible, where Adam is given a choice leading to a benefit. There is also a condition, a test of obedience.
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
“The serpent” – part of God’s creation, the talking snake appears without introduction. Its motives are unclear but “crafty”, presenting an alternative source of ‘wisdom’ from dependence on God, Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that this is Satan manifesting as a snake, as Paul and the apostle John later taught.
• For further study, read 2 Cor. 11:3; Revelation 12:9, 20:2.
2-3 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ”
“Not… the tree… in the middle” – by not naming the tree, the woman skirts round the reason for the ban.
4-5 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“You will not… die” – with this lie the snake denies God’s clear pronouncement. The lie deceived both Eve and Adam into separation from God and hence spiritual death. Jesus called Satan a liar and murderer from the beginning, John 8:44.
6-7 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
“The fruit was… desirable” – the snake appeals to the woman’s human independence, deceiving her into disobedience. Innocence lost, they now “know” or have experience of evil, and sin is born.
Here in the Garden of Eden — a place and an event which Scripture treats very seriously — mankind’s ancestor, Adam, faces a test. God has given him the freedom of the garden except for one particular tree and its fruit. Will he stay true to what God has told him, or will the suggestion that nothing is stopping him from doing his own thing prove too attractive? Adam gives in to Satan, loses the life he had, and opens the way for every subsequent generation to experience temptation to sin. We face exactly the same choice – whether to entertain the enemy’s latest lie, or to hold on to the truth from God.
How does Satan’s lying, deceiving nature affect us today?
Matthew 4:1-11 — Test: Satan fails to tempt Jesus into sin
Jesus, unlike Israel in the desert, overcomes by declaring God’s word
1-3 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. The tempter came to Him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
“Led by the Spirit… to be tempted by the devil” – “Tempted (tested and tried)” (Amp). “Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it” (Msg). God’s servants frequently face tests of resolve and character as they enter ministry, allowed by God but carried out by the devil.
“Into the wilderness to be tempted” – Adam and Eve gave in to temptation; their failing the test allowed sin to enter the world. Moses recalls how the Lord led the Israelites in the desert for 40 years “to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.” Jesus, in the desert, is provoked to sin but instead shows Himself the true, or real, Israelite who holds to what God has said to do (below).
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”
“It is written” – Jesus’ testing experience teaches us how to declare Scripture truth to deflect the enemy’s evil attentions. He quotes Deut. 8:3 to assert that what God has said, has a powerful spiritual dynamic.
5-6 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If You are the Son of God,” he said, “throw Yourself down. For it is written: “ ‘He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike your foot against a stone.’ ”
“If You are…” – following the temptation of material things, the devil tries the temptation of fame, conveniently omitting the promise “to keep you in all your ways” from Psalm 91:11-12, twisting its meaning to suggest that Jesus could test God in a spectacular way.
7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
“Jesus answered” – from Deut 6:16, with a principle even higher than trusting God, that of honouring Him. Satan implies God can be called upon to rescue, but Jesus knew that God is trustworthy even when we are suffering. Mocking bystanders observing Jesus on the Cross used Ps. 22:8 to suggest that if God really loved Him He would be rescuing Him. Jesus knew better.
8-9 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give You,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
“All this I will give you” – Satan, called the prince or ruler of this world, John 12:31, offers Jesus a shortcut to future kingdom reign without the Cross. But this is the worst of the three demands: exchanging the love of God for the worship of Satan.
“I will give” – Satan can exercise a measure of authority over the present sin-damaged world, but the kingdoms of the world belong to God and are promised to His Son.
• For further study, read Psalm 2:8; Luke 4:6; John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; 2 Cor. 4:4.
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”
“Away from Me” – Jesus affirms wholehearted worship of the one true God, showing that true worship, expressing love and total submission to God, is a knockout blow in spiritual warfare. As the devil craves our attention, to respond by extolling the goodness of God reverses this strategy.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended Him.
“Angels… attended Him” – showing Christ’s status as all heaven recognises the significance of His initial victory. The verse Satan had twisted, Ps. 91:11-12 is now fulfilled in God’s way.
The second account of testing also involves the devil appearing and speaking suggestively. Just as deception led Adam and Eve to act independently of God, so the devil uses the same tactic on Jesus to try to get Him to compromise His demanding mission. If Jesus can be persuaded to go outside what God had decreed, He would no longer be the sinless Son of God uniquely equipped to break the hold of sin in the rest of us. The good news is that when we are tested we can find the power of declaring the word of God, as Jesus did.
How do we declare the word of God in common ways we worship?
Romans 5:12-19 — Choice: Receive the gift of God in Jesus
Paul teaches original sin and its remedy, grace that comes from accepting Jesus
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –
“Sin entered the world” – Paul teaches the need for the gospel, because of man’s fall through Adam.
13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.
“Before the law” – the period from Adam to Moses, when human independence from God was widespread but not in the sense of individual violations. The rules for righteous and unrighteous behaviour would follow.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
“Death reigned” – Paul continues from his incomplete sentence of v.12, that the original man’s quest for independence was the root of sin, resulting in human mortality.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
“How much more” – a phrase Paul repeats. The reach and extent of God’s grace is immensely greater than even the disaster of Adam’s sin.
16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
“One man’s sin” – through the “one man”, Adam, sin entered the world and with it the condemnation, or punishment due, for that sin. That is the human state we all inherit, regardless of the kind of life we lead.
+ GOOD NEWS FOCUS: God has offered a way out, “the gift” of God, which we “receive”, v.17, by choosing to belong to Jesus.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!
“Trespass” – Adam’s offence was an act of trespass, a deliberate going astray. What Jesus Christ did for us was an act of undeserved grace, v.15, allowing us to be counted righteous if we have given our lives to Him.
18-19 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.
“One righteous act… justification… for all people” – condemnation “for all people” represented by Adam – the whole human race. The second “all people” is all who are represented by Christ: not everyone, but all who would believe in Him. The Bible is clear and consistent that salvation comes to those who make their choice to exercise faith in Jesus Christ – not everyone.
• For further study, see Matthew 7:13-14, 23; 25:46; Romans 1:16-17, 3:22, 28, 4:5, 13.
The story of the talking serpent appearing in the Garden of Eden, and the continuing curse resulting from Adam’s mistake, does not fit with our human ideas of what is believable and logical – spiritual discernment is needed. Yet other Bible writers, including Paul who makes it a mainstay of his doctrinal teaching, treat this encounter with all seriousness. A bit easier for us to believe, Jesus had His own testing encounter with the devil. Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus proved Himself sinless by responding with what God had said and refusing to entertain any alternative.
Taken together, these passages teach us that:
- Life is full of tests and choices. The battleground is in our thoughts, rather than played out in a garden or desert, but the enemy of our souls is constantly trying to deceive us and trip us up, to lure us off the path God has marked out.
- The good choice is always obedience – believing God and honouring Him in our actions.
- Obedience is more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. Paul, teaching the early church, only requires us to ‘do’ one thing, which is to believe in Jesus – to receive the gift of grace that is in the one man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ. Jesus in the desert was held by His relationship with His Father. Paul urges us to be living in the gift of righteousness, which comes to us undeserved but as those who are in Christ Jesus – those who have asked Jesus to be Lord of their lives.
We are equipped to recognise the tests and have the confidence to make good choices if we have asked Jesus to be our Lord and invited His Holy Spirit to help us – an obedience not coming from our good deeds or ‘ holy actions’ but the simple consequence of loving the Lord and wanting what He wants.
What strategy of the devil, often repeated, comes out from these passages?
Paul contrasts two states, being under condemnation or being counted righteous as one who is in Jesus Christ. How does it help to counter the devil’s suggestions, if we know we are accepted by heaven rather than guilty?
Father, this harsh and selfish world can make us feel like helpless aliens – but we are reminded again of Jesus’ victory and how by grace we are allowed to participate in it. In ourselves we have few answers to the wiles of the enemy and His tests, but in Christ Jesus he has little with which to answer us back. We praise You again, Lord God, and thank You for Jesus and His victory. And we join with Him in saying: “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’ ”. Amen.