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The Christadelphian | July 2011

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Language, the Bible and prayer
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning “Saul and David” | Kevin Talbot
  • Book review: King James’ men and their Bible | (When God spoke English) | John Morris
  • Temptation in the wilderness | Ken Clark
  • “I see a plumbline” | Allan Harvey
  • Book review: Principles and practice | (The Testimony Handbook of Bible Principles) | Peter Forbes
  • Moabite daughter of Abraham 3 – Return to Bethlehem | Michael Ashton
  • A son of old age 3 – To Gerar | Mark Sheppard
  • Be reconciled | Bruce Gurd
  • Forgiveness | Paul Cresswell
  • Signs of the times Withdrawal from Afghanistan
  • Israel and their land “Painful compromises”
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Temptation in the wilderness

THE third chapter of Luke contains what must be one of the most stirring pages in Israel’s history, for “the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness”. He awakened the whole nation to a sense of their position in the eyes of God. Like a great pioneer he cut down the trees that might have hindered the advancing commander. So mightily did he work that “the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not” (verse 15).

We are not able to be stirred as powerfully as they were, with John’s heart-searching questions and his persistent call to return to God. It was the end of an old era, and the beginning of a thrilling new age. John had to announce a great event. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets: after four hundred years of silence God spoke through this man.

His timeless message was a clear one, uncluttered by man’s philosophy. It was a call that appealed to the mind and the heart: ‘Repent before it is too late. Reform our nation by a new way of life, a new morality, based only on God’s commands. In your readiness see me only as a herald. There is one coming after me who will separate the worthy and the wicked, as we separate wheat and chaff. When he comes I am not worthy to untie his shoelaces, for he will be judge of all.’

“Jesus also was baptized …”

There came a day when John had been baptizing solemnly, but happily, those who came to him. When all the people had been baptized one man remained. John must have interviewed him but could not find a fault. With real feeling he said, “I have need to be baptized by you, and are you coming to me?” (Matthew 3:14). John’s work had reached its climax. “Suffer it to be so now”. Quietly and alone the two entered the water, and the Jordan received the Son of God in humble submission. Made in all points like us, he set the example, and allied himself with us all. At that moment he prefigured his own burial and rising again; even as we look back on our immersion, and then look forward in anticipation.

As our Lord arose it was in an attitude of prayer, and there was an immediate answer:

“When all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while he prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased’.” (Luke 3:21,22)

Not only was he a son by birth, but by the very manner of his life too. Similarly we, by a new birth and way of life, show our nearness to the Master, with the hope of being eternal children of God in a new, amazing era.

Then, almost as an anticlimax, we are presented with a genealogy. Why? It ends the list with “the son of Adam, the son of God”. It sounds like the knell of doom, for the first son had failed abysmally. How had he lapsed? John summed it up in a few words, “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). Eve saw the fruit as very good for food. She had a lust of the eyes and saw how desirable life could be without restrictions. There too was the pride of life that brought open rebellion, in which Adam concurred, and they snatched at that which was not their right.

That sin in Eden blighted the whole of mankind’s history. We cannot understand sin, unless we see the record in Paradise. As a colleague once said to me, rather pithily, “There is nothing wrong with the world, only the people in it”. As Dr. Johnson said, “Ah, Boswell, these are the things which make it difficult to die”. If the people were then estranged from God who would bring them back? God’s plan of the ages was plainly shown in Isaiah 53. Every child of God knows that a man’s bitterest enemy is himself. We can hear the agonised cry of Paul, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). Who? What a privilege to know the answer. The desire to do wrong is so plausible, but it is the flesh that shepherds us to the pit.

See then the turmoil in the Lord’s mind. What should he do? Was he, a carpenter, worthy to receive the greatness that was to be his? There follows the most staggering insight into his mind. We have in vivid drama the mental battles which took place, and the glorious victory he obtained over the most insidious enemy, Self. We see his hesitancy as he is hastened into a scorched wilderness. The great work, for which there had been undoubted preparation, was about to begin. Plan after plan would be considered, and three main considerations are before us, and his rejection of them all. It was an ordeal that after forty days must have left him exhausted mentally and physically. No man stood with him. He had to triumph through sheer strength of resolve.

See the trial in the context of a later saying, “To whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). With increased power the Lord was put to the test. Only two courses were open to him: he could serve Self, or glorify God with complete dedication.

“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit … was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted (peirazo, to try, prove or test) for forty days by the devil. And in those days he ate nothing, and afterwards, when they had ended, he was hungry.” (4:1,2)

“Command this stone to become bread”

The dusty stones looked much like the bread at home, and his Father would not want him to starve! How easy to change similarity to reality. Had God not said, “You are my beloved Son”? Before the Master lay the greatest temptations, which had to be faced alone. He had to show his true worth there and then. Unlimited power was at his disposal, but the salvation of mankind depended on his reactions. Would he succumb to naked temptation, or rise to the true height of a glorious Son of God? All around him was the evidence of his Father’s hand. It was He who had said, “You shall not”. The first couple had not heeded His wise prohibition, and reached out to take that which was not for them. The second Adam would not repeat their foolishness.

The thirty years of meditation on God’s word came out in the Lord’s forthright answer: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.” But Moses had also said, “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the LORD your God chastens you” (Deuteronomy 8:3,5). It was a supreme moment when he could show he was a son by his reaction to trial. It was an appeal to free will or self-will. In Eden there had been the subtle suggestion, ‘You may, you can, it will be pleasant’. But this man had a mother who had said, “Let it be … according to your word”. Her family-taught truths had made their mark and the Son had the word of God written on his heart. The first temptation was over.

“All the kingdoms of the world”

The second temptation was from the vista on a high mountain, where authority over all the earth was offered him. Our Saviour’s mind must have been centred on the world to come when he would be King of kings. Of course he knew Psalm 2 with all that it promised, but he also knew Psalm 22. Would he precipitate God’s plan? It was unthinkable. He saw the world for what it was. The Roman ruler Tiberius had all the worship, but was a miserable, degraded man. Our Lord, when free from all temptation would take his power and reign for God, and eventually hand over all kingly authority to God, who would be worshipped. Before Him would be countless immortalised saints energised by the Spirit. Oh, happy day! But the test had been a crucial one, for might not the Son have thought, ‘You are the Son, go on, give in, do not suffer; have it all now’. His resounding answer was, “You shall worship the Lord your God” (Luke 4:8).

“Throw yourself down”

The final temptation was to look down from the dizzy heights of the temple, and to throw himself over. God’s word said that he would be preserved from death, so why go to Golgotha? Why not take the easy way out? The populace would be brought to its feet by a spectacular advertisement of his power. Golgotha would be bypassed, and he would be freed from the horrors of that time. It could not be. If the people needed a sign to believe, others too would need the same, one after another. The greatest sign would be a life dedicated to God, via the cross, to resurrection and joy. Men’s appetites were not to be titillated, but inspired to discipline. Had Jesus given in to temptation then he would indeed be a representative of mankind, but could not be our Saviour. We would remain sinners without his sacrifice.

As Brother Roberts said, the scriptures meant, “Protection from evil beyond control, and not from evil rashly and presumptuously incurred”. The result? Angels did not save a falling foot, but with sadness had to see wicked hands nail the Lord to a cross. Those feet had carried beautiful messages of salvation, but even the Son could not move hardened hearts.

“Now when the devil (Greek, diabolos) had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). “Ended” has the sense of ‘completed every kind of’. The Lord would face many more temptations but all were encompassed in the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All had been conquered – wonderfully. It is a tremendously satisfying picture of a man tried in the extreme but who emerged triumphant. The devil only left him “for a season”. Time and again temptations assailed him (Matthew 16:1; 19:3 etc.). The diabolos was there all the time. There is the rub in this life. As quickly as we overcome a trial another may be looming on the horizon. If we are to conquer, there must be a desire to be instructed by God, and put that instruction into our everyday actions, that men and women may say, ‘They have been with Jesus’.

The Master left for us an example of self-denial, self-mastery and self-surrender. In the love that he made available to us, we must see the glory that is ours now. We have bread from heaven to eat, angels ministering to us, and a kingdom that cannot be moved. In the future we shall eat and drink with the Lord and be made equal to angels. If we learn to serve now we shall rule a world, seeing harmony in all nations. What a present joy, and a future wonder.

“Be of good cheer”

We cannot feel that the three temptations were all that the Saviour endured. Time and again they came in various guises. Material things came to mean so little to him that he could say, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). The final trial came with the cry, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross”. That was the worst trial when every sinew must have been shrieking in pain. Yet there was the astonishing plea for forgiveness. It was, however, just before the cross he could exhort us all, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world”. His victory was won in Gethsemane. A cruel end awaited him, but he looked beyond and saw something finer, nobler than the world could offer, and with this cheer in his heart he died for us. One of the great tragedies in life is not to be loved, but greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Our Lord understands our weaknesses because he suffered in the same way. Now he can feel for us and help us in every department of our lives, if we remain true to our sacred trust. Whatever affliction awaits us, we too must ask, “What is written?” The outcome is certain, and angels will minister to us all.

“Man’s greatness, and God’s joy, is in willing obedience.”

ken clark


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