When I got to today’s readings, I knew I had to cover Matthew 4!
The Temptation narrative is rich with theological meaning on so many levels but I want to highlight two of my favourite layers to that story.
Jesus succeeds where Adam failed:
Yesterday, we read Genesis 3 and the narrative of the Fall. One component of the Fall is that often missed is how the serpent’s temptation worked on three fronts:
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom…
That tactic was profoundly effective!
So she took some of its fruit and ate it; she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Genesis 3:6 CSB
Those three things – the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17) – come to the fore in Jesus’ temptation.
The first temptation was the temptation to turn stones into bread – a temptation to satisfy the body’s desire for food. The second temptation was the temptation for Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the Temple. Satan’s use of the Psalms suggest this was an attempt to appeal to some angelic rescue that would be seen by all – a clear appeal to pride. The final temptation involved being shown the kingdoms of the world and having them offered to Him for the low, low price of simply bowing down and worshipping Satan – an appeal to the desire of the eyes first and foremost.
But where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus glorously triumphs. The first Adam floundered in the serpent’s face in the garden – the second Adam begins His trampling of the serpent’s head in the wilderness.
Jesus succeeds where Israel failed:
Not only does Jesus succeed where Adam fails but He succeeded where Israel as a nation failed.
In the interest of brevity, I will simply note a few areas of similarity as well as contrast:
Israel, God’s firstborn, entered the wilderness after passing through the waters of the Red Sea
Jesus, God’s firstborn, entered the wilderness after passing through water in His baptism
Israel went into the wilderness for 40 years at the behest of God for their lack of faith in God’s direction
Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days at the leading of the Spirit
Israel grumbled for bread in the wilderness in a lack of faith
Jesus refuses bread in submission and faith in God
Israel constantly gave into idolatry in the wilderness
Jesus refused to worship Satan in the wilderness
Unlike Israel, whose history was one of constant failure and disobedience, Jesus succeeds in the wilderness!
Adam failed in the Garden and Israel failed in the wilderness – yet Jesus is the Victor over the adversary, fulfilling what was lacking in their stories…and in His obedient life, He succeeds where His elect has failed and His righteousness is imputed to their account.
If you said Adam and Eve, you get partial credit. The first Gospel message is given to us in our first reading for today.
I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.
Genesis 3:15 CSB
The first person to hear the Gospel, ladies and gentlemen, was the Devil!
But before I get into that, I want us to take note that this is in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve and the serpent are still, as yet, in the garden of Eden – and it’s the garden of Eden that has become ground zero for the Gospel.
We often think of the Gospel as a New Testament idea, something that only makes sense in light of the Cross and the coming of Jesus. That is not entirely wrong – after all, it is the New Testament that explicitly speaks of Christ and His redeeming work.
The reality is, though, the Gospel was not plan B after our first parents screwed up but it was always plan A. The Gospel started even earlier than the garden – it began in the mind of the triune God in eternity past when the Father chose a people, the Son covenanted to die for them and the Spirit as the bond of love between the Father and Son promised to apply the work of the Son to those the Father had chosen.
When Genesis 3:15 speaks of the victory of the woman’s Seed over the serpent, that might have been news to the Devil and it might have been news to Adam and Eve – but it wasn’t news to God.
I’m beginning a new Bible reading plan this year – the first since 2014. In the spirit of finding a way to stay motivated, I’ll be writing a short reflection based on each day’s reading. It won’t be amazing material but I trust it’ll help me stay grounded.
It’s highly fascinating that my walk through the Word in 2019 begins on January 1 with four beginnings: the beginning of human history in Genesis, the beginning of the Messiah in Matthew, the (new) beginning of Israel in Ezra after the exile and the beginnings of the church in Acts.
Why does God take such great pains to emphasize beginnings?
Might I suggest that God is concerned with beginnings because He is faithful? He goes to great details about how things begin so we can see His faithfulness in seeing them through to the end.
He creates – and in the end, that creation, though it will fall, is gloriously restored as the redeemed people of God live in His presence under His rule and blessing.
He calls out believers and grants them a glorious new beginning – one as His Church, His body, His bride.
He calls forth His people out of exile and in the end, that people will come out of the exile of sin and turn to the Messiah sent for them (Romans 11)
He sends His Son – in the most ordinary way possible, through human beings flawed and fallible – so that those who turn from their sins and trust in Him can have a new beginning.
A beginning crafted from the foundation of the world.
As a bibliophile, one of the more regular experiences I go through is waiting for the next volume in a series.
Sometimes the wait isn’t too long – like starting the Harry Potter for the first time in 2016. The wait time was usually the next day, courtesy of Amazon Prime.
At other times, the wait is a long time. In the case of the fourth volume of pastor and historian Nick Needham’s church history series 2000 Years of Christ’s Power, it was twelve years since the last volume was published and six years since I read the last volume.
For those unfamiliar with the series, 2000 Years of Christ’s Power began when Dr Needham, lecturer in Church History at Highland Theological College and pastor of the Inverness Reformed Baptist Church, was teaching in Nigeria and found he couldn’t find an in-depth church history that was also readable. As is often the case, when you can’t find what you need, creating it is a good bet and so Dr Needham released the first volume, The Age of the Early Church Fathers in 2004.
The second volume covered The Middle Ages and the third dealt with the Renaissance and Reformation and now the series continues with this highly-anticipated fourth volume covering the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.
So the question remains: was the wait worth it?
Having finished this fourth book, I can unequivocally say that it was worth waiting for! The series had a couple of great features which this fourth volume exemplifies:
It is even-handed: It is easy to use church history as something of a weapon to club opponents in a heated discussion but as folks who know church history tell me, church history is not quite so cut and dry. At times, those we think of as being on our team are often guilty of doing that which just isn’t right or (worse) doing that which is right for the wrong motivations. Needham does an amazing job of just reporting the news and not spinning it, especially when dealing with groups as contentious as the Puritans or the Covenanters or periods as fraught as the Calvinist-Arminian controversy or The Great Ejection.
I came away reading some sections both saddened at the behaviour of some of my theological forefathers yet thankful for the firm resolve and fearless faith of others of them. That was only possible because Dr Needham seeks to be even-handed in his dealings with this fractious time in church history
It seeks to provide modern lessons from our history: More than once, Dr Needham rather cleverly weaves together lessons we can learn from the strengths and weaknesses of the past – and even from theological traditions that differ from his own (and my own) Reformed and Baptistic roots. Church history can often be the “stuff of the past” but Needham shows the relevance of our roots as 21st-century evangelicals and what can we do to avoid the same missteps.
I enjoyed volume four of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power (and in reality, the whole series) and would highly commend it to anyone looking to think critically about our roots as believers.
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Depression
I can’t remember the last time I talked about my struggle with depression.
To some who have known me a long time, that may come as something of a surprise since when I was younger, I was very vocal and frank about it (unusually so for not-so-talkative me).
A little bit about my journey about depression:
It started when I was 15. I have always been a withdrawn, quiet kid (partially by choice, partially by circumstances like being a pastor’s kid and fearing the unwanted attention it brought) but I can remember feeling overwhelmingly despondent as well as quiet and withdrawn. It wasn’t constant but it came in seasons – I would just withdraw from everyone and everything for days on end, just about managing to go to school. My mum, having experience working with kids with special educational needs, was concerned, we went to see a doctor and weeks later, I was diagnosed with having a minor depressive disorder.
It got worse as I went off to college. That’s the part most folks who know me will recall. Possibly made worse by the seismic change of living in a loud, somewhat claustrophobic house to living on my own and knowing next to no-one, I spiralled into episode after episode of crippling depression. I only know how to do two things when I’m hurting – praying and writing – so I expressed how I felt in prayer and in a lot of writing – some of which was unhelpfully made public, looking back in hindsight. Realising I couldn’t be alone, I moved back home for the rest of my college time. Despite being driven for much more different reasons1 , it wasn’t as cripplingly lonely.
It got better. It got better around the age of 21 for a number of reasons – I moved churches and plugged in to body life, I found a place to express myself on social media, I actually hung out with real people…
But if there was one thing that turned it round for me, it was studying 2 Corinthians 1:3-11
I used to teach a Bible study over Skype during this period and I was considering what to teach for a single study one evening when I read 2 Cor 1:3-11:
3 Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.
4 He comforts us in all our affliction,so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
5 For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.
6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation. If we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is experienced in your endurance of the same sufferings that we suffer.
7 And our hope for you is firm, because we know that as you share in the sufferings, so you will share in the comfort.
8 For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia: we were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life.
9 Indeed, we personally had a death sentence within ourselves, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.
10 He has delivered us from such a terrible death, and He will deliver us. We have put our hope in Him that He will deliver us again
11 while you join in helping us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gift that came to us through the prayers of many.
It was in studying that text that I found the one component that I had missed all the while I had been suffering with depression – my suffering seemed purposeless but no suffering is purposeless.
In that passage, Paul speaks to three realities that upheld him in his suffering and it ought to uphold us, whether our suffering is as ‘random’ as depression or it’s grief or rejection or disappointment.
In the next post, I’ll walk through that passages and unpack those three realities and how they’ve helped me in the intervening few years since I “hit the bottom”.
I was the quiet one in a house with five other loud people! [↩]
I spend a lot of time reading blogs. Kinda comes with the territory when you write for one. A while ago, The Gospel Coalition did a series of posts about people who changed their views on a number of issues – Sam Storms did a piece on why he abandoned premillennialism (lots of comments on that one – after all, who wants to be a dispensationalist in our enlightened age, right?), Gavin Ortlund, Liam Goligher and Sean Michael Lucas all chimed in on baptism (a discussion which is definitely worth having) – but the one article I hoped someone who write was one on the gifts – either from a continuationist perspective (namely the belief that the sign gifts are available today for the Church) or a cessationist perspective (the belief that the sign gifts passed with the passing of the apostles and their associates) – but alas nothing.
That for me sums up the nature of the discussion in professing evangelical circles when it comes to the issue of the work of the Spirit today. No one seems willing to have the tough discussions on this issue – it’s not that it cannot be done, there just seems to be little desire for it. As an ex-Pentecostal myself, I think on both sides, we need some robust discussion about the ministry of the Spirit today (thankfully I’m not alone in that assessment – Burk Parsons, editor for Ligonier Ministries’ Tabletalk magazine and co-pastor with R.C. Sproul at St Andrew’s Chapel in Florida, asked for the same in a message he gave at TGC’s conference earlier this year.)
Part of that robust discussion is going to have to deal with the issue of the charismata. But alas, you see little written on it and the little that is often comes from a non-committal position on the issue which sounds nice and conciliatory but doesn’t answer the questions. I sincerely believe John MacArthur’s latest work,Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, might just get the discussion going with some gusto at long last.
In terms of the strengths of the book, there are several I found as I read it (most of it being on a flight back to London from Los Angeles):
Clarity: One thing I’ve come to love about reading anything from John MacArthur (and I’ve read a good dozen in the last few years) is that you never have to ponder what it is he is getting at. Pinpoint clarity – even if you disagree with him – has been a hallmark of his ministry and he brings that focused mind to this work. At several points, he’ll make a point for several sentences and then, with one line, will open up his point so clearly you’ll go, “Yup, I saw that coming.”
Brevity: Combined with that ability to be clear is an ability to get to the point quickly. I fear that part of the reasons that a lot of defenses of cessationism haven’t gotten the mass hearing they should have (like Thomas Edgar’s excellent Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit or Victor Budgen’s The Charismatics and the Word of God) is because they are frankly quite difficult to follow at point. MacArthur’s ability to be concise really comes through here and proves to be rather helpful
Theological and Biblical Focus: More important, the book is saturated with proper quotation from Scripture and incisive theological content. This isn’t some book-length rant which hasn’t been thought through but a careful, theologically-grounded treatment of the issues (albeit not all of them), grounded in the exposition of the Scriptures. I found myself pulling out my tablet and summarizing many of the arguments made in the talks in Evernote for future use.
The final third of the book – devoted to a positive presentation of the ministry of the Spirit – was well worth the price of the book as a whole. A full-length treatment would prove invaluable if done someday.
Things That Could Have Been Better
I purposefully don’t call them weaknesses because these are somewhat subjective and open to discussion.
A Clearer Target: A common complaint throughout the conference (which I was present for) and in the time following it has been that MacArthur swept with too broad a brush and that reformed continuationists were swept along in the process. Now I don’t think that’s a fair argument to make but I do appreciate why one would come to that conclusion. In the book, it is not until chapter 12 that a distinction is made between the Charismatic Movement in toto and reformed continuationists – if I may be blunt, that’s a little long to leave it. Were I writing the book (and this is not intended as a slight on Dr MacArthur), I would have made that point every chance I got. With an issue this charged, I would take any and every opportunity in my discourse to diffuse that charge so that we can have the discussion without someone walking out because they had their feelings hurt.
More Time on the Positive Ministry of the Spirit: I loved chapters nine through eleven which dealt with the true work of the Spirit and would commend them to everyone but I couldn’t help but wonder where the chapters on the baptism and filling of the Spirit, what the Spirit-filled life actually looks like or even the differences between the Spirit’s ministry in the Old and New Testaments – since in my experience of discussing these issues, a lot of misunderstandings stems from not understanding these issues in their proper Biblical detail.
A Recommendation Before You Go and Buy A Copy
To those who haven’t read Dr MacArthur’s 1993 work Charismatic Chaos, I want to make a bold suggestion: go and read that before you read Strange Fire. Having read both, I think the arguments in Charismatic Chaos are much more substantive and argued out plus it addresses many of the questions Strange Fire doesn’t address like:
What is the nature of the Baptism of the Spirit?
What does true spirituality look like?
What was happening in the NT?
What Strange Fire does so well is to deal with many of the modern problems that have arisen like the “fallible prophecy” hypothesis of Wayne Grudem or the errors of the New Apostolic Reformation using the same broad base of arguments set forth in Charismatic Chaos. But for an in-depth treatment, I probably wouldn’t start here.
My Final Verdict
While I enjoyed reading it, it wasn’t as mammoth a defense of the cessationist position as I thought it would be. I still think Charismatic Chaos did that in ’93. However, in fairness to it, I don’t think it was intended to do that in the first place. This seems to be a “this is the state of play – what do we then say?” kind of work – and that it does well.
I loved the book for what it did and would gladly recommend it for those who always agree on the issue but would like a couple of silver bullets for those long, drawn-out conversations that tend to happen with folks who disagree as well as getting someone caught up to think about what they are involved in and whether what they are involved is indeed glorifying to God. After all, isn’t that all that matters in the end?
Hey guys and gals,
Hope this finds you doing well.
I wanna chop it up with you guys for a minute about an attitude I have found incredibly disturbing in the last few months – especially since I’ve seen it in myself.
The attitude is this: I have a view – I don’t much care for yours so I will treat it (and you) however I please. Now no-one will put it that bluntly – that’s just plain mean, dude. No, we won’t say that but oh my, you behave like it. Like I said, that was something I saw in myself – and it was an unlikely turn of events that exposed it.
A year ago, I left my church to join a church plant called GraceLife London. That story is for another day but one big thing in my theology changed last summer. I moved from a covenantal perspective in my theology to a more dispensational one. In my excitement, I posted it on Facebook – which was quite the airhead move. Within minutes, folks I considered friends and brothers were tearing into me for making such a “ridiculous” move. No one asked what had prompted it, folks on both sides squared off and I got so frustrated that I jumped into the mix and basically attempted to slap folks with a 2×4 for behaving like wild animals at feeding time.
I woke up the next morning and it finally hit me – I had done the same to folks who differed with me on issues. Charismatics, Arminians, dispensationalists (or dispies – because that sounds more derogatory) – they’d all been on the receiving end of some kind of beatdown from me – and now the shoe was on the other foot.
I’m a firm believer in using negative experiences to learn positives – and so looking back, I took three things away from that experience which I think theologically-inclined folks like us could do with learning:
(1) There is never any excuse to behave like a jerk: But Paul was kinda harsh in Galatians! Yep – when the Gospel is actually at stake, I’m all for pistols at dawn. But Calvinism-Arminianism (or Lutheranism), dispensationalism-covenantalism, credobaptism-paedobaptism are NOT Gospel issues. We might not be able to fellowship as members in the same church or serve in eldership together but that doesn’t mean that you are not a Christian (or a “good” Christian) because you don’t hold my views and thus you behave like a jerk towards me. The same Paul who wrote Galatians wrote this:
1 Corinthians 13:2 If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
Having all the knowledge in the world without love profits you nothing. Now at this point, some wisecracking individual will say, “The most loving thing you can do is point out error.”
I agree it is not a loving thing to leave someone to persist in error without saying something. However, it is equally unloving to act as though you have all your theological ducks neatly in a line and so that gives you carte blanche to behave like a jerk for Jesus.
(2) You don’t have a market on truth: Now hear me on this. I am not a postmodernist who denies there are absolute truths. Jump off a building and pretty quickly, you’ll meet an absolute truth called gravity as you plummet into the pavement (or sidewalk for my American friends). That being said, no one system can claim apostolic perfection (apologies to my Catholic friends) – and the sooner we all grasp that as evangelicals, the sooner we might actually get somewhere.
If you’re afraid to learn from someone else, no one should frankly be learning from you. My historical hero Charles Haddon Spurgeon said the following in relation to books:
The man who never reads will never be read;
he who never quotes will never be quoted.
He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains,
that he has no brains of his own.
That applies as much to tweets and blog posts as it does to books. If you can’t follow the train of other men’s thoughts to see how they got to where they are, then why in Heaven’s name should I care to get on your train?
(3) Sometimes it’s OK to just shut up: Apologies for the bluntspeak at that point – but that’s very much how I feel when I see a lot of discussion that happen on the Web. I literally feel to yell the words “SHUT UP ALREADY!!!” and if you know me well enough, push it enough and I just might, even if I agree with you.
Not every theological “aberration” needs your commentary. If you know you can say in love and without trying to be the “bigger theologian”, speak…
But if you can’t, dude/dudette, go pray about it until you can. Even if you miss that “perfect moment” to shut down the discussion, listen – you are not Superman and Twitter is not Metropolis. The world is not gonna collapse without your input – humility and love make for better conversation starters than arrogance and the desire to be “right”.
It’s not my heart to beat anyone up over the Web but to prompt some serious thought about how we hold our convictions. I’ve been writing on this theme for a few months now – you can read that series in progress called “Disagreeing as Brothers Not Enemies”. Ultimately, Eph 4:15 is the aim. Give it a read sometime 🙂
I’ve adopted a new practice of late. On the train to and from university, I’ll listen to some teaching, saving the music for the walk home from the train station.
This past week, I had the opportunity to listen to a fantastic teaching on the Godhead entitled “The Greatness of the Godhead” by Pastor Steve Cooley, one of the pastors at Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boylston, MA and “the Tuesday guy” from No Compromise Radio (a podcast that is the first thing I listen to when I get through the door every day).
In this teaching from their Sunday school class (or so I gather), Pastor Steve takes a look at some of the attributes of God and parses out the Biblical teaching behind them as well as showing the application. I really enjoyed this teaching, not only because it was Biblically grounded but also because Pastor Steve is quite the humorous guy. Listen out for his “dude over the cliff” story 😉
The teaching is in four parts – right-click the links to download them:
At the moment, if you were to ask me for a theological label, I would say “theological mutt”. By that I mean that at the present time, I am a weird mix of committed Calvinism with a twinge of dispensational thinking. As my friend The Squirrel so aptly notes, “When [I’m] with our dispensational brethren, [I’m] in the minority as a Calvinist and when [I’m] with our Reformed brethren, we’re in the minority as dispensationalists. ”
One thing I love about the Reformed side of my faith is its robust, practical doctrine of sanctification. I came out of a traditional Pentecostal background with strong Word-Faith tendencies. The Pentecostal side of things especially came to the fore with a belief called entire sanctification. To quote the statement of faith of my old church growing up:
Entire Sanctification is a definite act of God’s grace, subsequent to the New Birth, by which the believer’s heart is purified and made holy. It cannot be attained progressively by works, struggle or suppression, but is obtained by faith in the sanctifying blood of Jesus Christ. Holiness of life and purity of heart are central to Christian living. Luke 1:74,75; John 17:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 4:3,7,8; 5:22-24; Ephesians 5:25-27; Hebrews 2:11; 10:10,14; 13:11,12; Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:14-16.
In other words, sanctification is not a process but an event that happens post-conversion in which (to quote another phrase from my upbringing) “the root of the Adamic nature” is taken out, allowing the believer to walk in holiness of life. You can only imagine the complete nightmare it made the Christian life on the one hand for the one who didn’t have this experience and the smug self-satisfaction that it engendered on the other hand for the one who claimed to possess it.
Then, I came to embrace the doctrines of grace in my late teens. The doctrine of justification – that God has declared me righteous in Christ, not on the basis of my own righteousness but Christ’s – became an immense comfort. I can still remember reading with joy the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s classic definition of this glorious doctrine:
Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
Yet I still had some niggling questions. If this is true, what about sanctification? Is it an event like I heard and was encouraged to pursue as I grew up? Was it a process and if so, does it come to an end in this life or is it ongoing but never fully done? Where do my works factor into that grand equation?
Thankfully, in God’s providence, this zealous but incredibly ignorant teenager wasn’t alone. I had the privilege of being discipled by a retired Presbyterian minister who worked with me through the relevant Bible texts and pointed me to the vast riches of the Reformed tradition on this doctrine and so I came to embrace a view of sanctification that steered well clear of the “Let go and let God” theology I had heard growing up and the weird legalism I had also seen as folks tried hard to walk the straight and narrow in their own strength.
But alas, that was five years ago and since then, I’ve noticed a weird trend in evangelical, “gospel-centred” (read: reformed) circles. But I’ll save that for Part 2.
Lord willing, a regular feature here at Fiery Logic will be a sermon or Bible study which I hope will be of some benefit.
This week’s Saturday Night Sermon is one from my fellowship, GraceLife London, featuring the ministry of Dr Keith Essex, professor of Bible Exposition at The Master’s Seminary. His theme is “A Divine Intolerance”, working through Gal 1:6-10