WRESTLING AGAINST Luke 4.2 Jesus at Nazareth

Luke 4:14-27

14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day, he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time when the sky was shut for three and a half years, and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.


It is very easy to only think about the last part of the story to answer our question. Jesus made a provocative statement accusing his fellow Nazarenes of errant unbelief by comparing them to the Israelites at the time of Elijah and Elisha. When the whole congregation became furious to the point of wanting to put their hometown “son” to death it is natural to assume the presence of the adversary.  The level of anger going way beyond reasonable is consistent with the nature of wickedness. In fact, wickedness is always trans-rational, indiscriminate and destructive. We also know that it comes from a hierarchical order of spiritual personalities: the devil and the hosts of demons. We should not, however, limit our focus in Nazareth to the end of the story.  We need to see what led to this outburst.

The town that Jesus called home for almost thirty years was totally insignificant according to the records from that time. Researchers have estimated its population to be approximately 200 people. When Nathanael is told by Philip that they have met the Messiah and that he comes from Nazareth, all he can say is, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”[1] When historians provide lists of Galilean towns, Nazareth never gets a mention. How ironic that this town stands out for two reasons:  first, it was the home of the Messiah for all those years.  Second, it was the only town to react violently to the idea that Jesus was the Messiah (apart from Jerusalem of course).

The first visit of Jesus to his hometown was poignant, to say the least.  He had been baptised by John and commissioned by his Father at the Jordan River.  He spent forty days in the wilderness being challenged by the devil.  On his return to Galilee he made Capernaum the operations base for his ministry.  The miracles done there immediately became known throughout the province and beyond.  He also visited other Galilean towns where he also performed miracles and taught in synagogues. By the time he decided to return to his hometown, his reputation as a teacher and miracle worker had arrived ahead of him.

What happened in Nazareth may seem extreme, but it is quite common in Christian experience. We could call it “familial resistance.” Familial, because it happens in families but also because it comes about through over-familiarity. The saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt” refers to the same thing. Having lived in a small country town of around 300 people for the first twenty years of my life, I am well aware of it. Everyone knew everything about everyone. Sometimes they knew a bit more than everything. When you think about the fact that Jesus spent thirty years in the company of 200 people and never once gave any indication that he was the Messiah that, in itself is amazing. He did such a good job of becoming incarnate that no one suspected for a moment that he was anything other than the son of Mary and Joseph. And Mary and Joseph were not notable for anything famous except, perhaps, for the scandal associated Mary’s pregnancy which small town gossip tends to perpetuate.

There is a much bigger back story to Jesus’ visit to Nazareth than any other place he visited.  He was well known there, but not for any of the things for which he became known in every other place.  It was this back story that allowed the enemy to hinder what God wanted them to know.  This identifies a very important aspect of the devil’s work everywhere.  He uses what has become familiar to stop us from seeing the unfamiliar.  He uses the past to rob us of the future.  He uses our long term compromises to blind us from discovering truth.  This story from Nazareth highlights all of these.  The presence and work of the enemy here escalated through a number of identifiable stages.

1. They responded to Divine Presence with Indifference

When Jesus came to Nazareth, he arrived before the Sabbath. We are not told how many days he was there, but it was more than one. Jesus had been performing notable miracles in Capernaum, and the news of it has spread quickly. He had also visited other towns and spoken in their synagogues. In all cases the reception was enthusiastic. But when he came to his own town, the initial impact was …… nothing. Later in the sequence of events, Jesus pointed to the fact that they were waiting for something to happen, but no one came to him for healing. No one asked him any questions or called on him to teach or preach. It was like old times. He was back in town, but nothing more was going on that Mary and Joseph were hosting their otherwise becoming-famous son. Small towns note those things in their weekly newspapers. When I was in Dorrigo (Mid-North Coast NSW) the eight-page Don Dorrigo Gazette used to include about a quarter of a page reporting significant social events: “Rodney and Karen Smith were pleased to receive their eldest son, John, visiting from Brisbane.”  Everyone already knew about it of course, but it still got a mention. When I was growing up in Gunning, I was hardly ever referred to as Brian. I would be introduced as “Terry Medway’s boy.”

When Jesus came home for a visit, the reception was not like Capernaum or other towns and villages of Galilee. There, Jesus’ reputation and a preacher and healer attracted immediate attention. People gathered to hear and brought their sick to be healed. But in Nazareth there was nary a ripple on the social let alone spiritual level. The former status quo rose up to challenge whatever they had heard about from other places. In Nazareth it was a case or, “Joseph and Mary were pleased to receive a visit from their son, Jesus.”  They were wondering about the stories they had heard, but it was kept well under wraps. The social status quo prevailed. Even though Jesus was now performing signs and wonders that should have alerted them, they totally rejected the idea that Jesus presence was Messianic.

I think this kind of enemy work is common to kingdom ministry no matter which part of the world you live and regardless of which century you belong to. In recent years we have begun to hear the term “presence” as referring to God tangibly engaging with people. I have heard people talk about going to a Christian gathering and saying, “God really showed up tonight.” They were referring to the ‘manifest presence of God.’ We all accepted the idea that God was omnipresent. But if someone fell down as they were receiving prayer, we would be told that God did something that could be seen or heard. When Jesus returned to Nazareth his presence was the presence of God. The apostle, John described it in this way,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth……. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”[2]

God showed up in Nazareth. No longer was he travelling incognito. No longer was the incarnation limited to mere human ability and capacity. God said things and did things through his Son. They were things that everyone could see and hear. They were things that required a response.

As far as the people of Nazareth were concerned nothing was going to change. The mould that had taken thirty years to construct in their minds and hearts was just too strong.  But the enemy was using that to push back against what they had heard from Capernaum and other places.  For those days this was definitely the “elephant” in the room.” We have to realise that we often fail to go looking for the presence of God, even though we are told that he dwells within us and will never leave for forsake us. He says he will be with us always. That means we have to discover his presence, not just hold it before us as an empty proposition. We often need to seek him in order to find him. Like the people of Nazareth, we often settle for the words but have no real expectation of the reality.

Remember, we are looking at this incident to see how the enemy made his intentions and presence felt. The truth is that he had been doing a good job at it for a long time in Nazareth. It was always going to be a shock for Jesus to leave home as Joseph and Mary’s boy and come back as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Their conclusion that Jesus was nothing than a small town boy of no special status was demonic. When the evidence came to their ears by way of the stories about him in Capernaum and elsewhere, they were apparently set aside. When Jesus showed up the shutters were up, and the doors were closed. It was, perhaps the only village in Galilee that reacted in this way.  Think about it. There is a special kind of enemy work that uses the familiarity and culture of our close perimeter relationships to block us from seeing the heart and purpose of God.  Jesus was warning us about this when he made statements like this one:  “a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”[3]

The people of Nazareth made no response to the fact that Jesus was in their midst.  Like the people of Jerusalem that Jesus wept for, they missed their opportunity.  That this began with a polite silence is no less a sign of the working of demonic purpose than someone lying on the ground frothing at the mouth.  It is the more heinous because of its false air of respectability.

2. Responding To Revelation with Denial

The second manifestation of the enemy occurred when Jesus was given the scroll and chose to read words from one of the fundamental passages in the Scriptures referring to the long-awaited Messiah. As he was reading, I am sure everyone’s heart was being stirred. I have been in congregations that place high-level emphasis on the second coming of Jesus.  Every time it is spoken about excitement stirs because of their heightened anticipation.  It could be any day!   What a day that would be.


Just think about that situation and then read what Jesus said to them. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  These words cannot be easily misunderstood. He was telling them that he WAS the Messiah. I don’t have any trouble understanding what he meant by those words, nor do I have any problem accepting the fact that Jesus was the very Messiah promised in those words. Not so, the people in the synagogue at Nazareth. Their lack of understanding shouts at us. In their minds it was unthinkable that Jesus could be that Messiah.  He had lived up the road for all those years and there was nothing to warrant such an idea.


Instead of getting upset because he made such a preposterous claim or asking a question as to how this could be, they met this revelation with complete denial.  They talked about his capabilities as an orator. He has just announced that the waiting time for the Messiah to come is over, but all they can talk about was his elegant diction. He was the son of Joseph and Mary, nothing more.

We only have to compare this situation with what happened a long way to the north when Jesus and the disciples visited Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked them to tell him who they thought he was. Peter was quick to respond, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[4] They were looking at the same person but what they saw was totally different. Sadly, their history of seeing and knowing Jesus as a local became a demonic weapon powerful enough to block what Jesus was plainly telling them.

It is important to see that their reaction was not just people having a different viewpoint. There is only one entity committed to stopping people from recognising the Messiah, and that’s the devil. He doesn’t show up as a man in a red suit toting a pitch fork; he shows up by convincing the people of Nazareth that Jesus is nothing more than the son of the local carpenter.  This is a dark presence having a profound impact on the people from Nazareth. It is not a demonic manifestation where someone screaming out obscenities or curses. These people are not demon possessed. They are under demonically inspired bondage. More to the point, this kind of demonic presence is not something that will be resolved by an exorcism. This presence has been building over the years or even decades. It so locks people into a cultural set of expectations that the idea of the Messiah growing up in their midst is wildly preposterous to them. It causes them to immediately disregard what Jesus has just said – and move on quickly.

When people respond to revelation with denial it isn’t because they haven’t heard what was said. They could hear okay. They also knew the language and the meaning of the words. There were no complicated philosophical concepts. “Today” means today. This “Scripture” refers to the Messianic passage from Isaiah he had just read. “Fulfilled in your hearing” meant everyone within earshot in the synagogue. No problems there. The problem was a demonised set of attitudes and previous experiences that caused them to hear but not accept what Jesus had said. They didn’t argue about it either.  They didn’t ask questions.  They just ignored it and changed the subject.

Again, this is a universal experience. Jesus told a parable about the devil coming and stealing the word from heaven that they have received.[5] It was the devil who came and stole, not a person lacking understanding. It was demonic presence, right there. How many sermons have been listened to, Bible portions read and prophetic words given by the Spirit that have had a clear and straightforward meaning only to be met with a demonic wall of resistance. There is no fanfare and no outburst. Just a polite change of subject. We need to be alert to this – both for our own sake and for the sake of those for whom we have responsibility before God.

3. Responding To Conviction with Retaliation

It is easy to see that there is a progression here. Things are heating up in the old hometown synagogue. First Jesus comes to town and people ignore his presence. Then he goes to the synagogue and reads a Messianic portion from the Scriptures and tells them plainly that he is their Messiah. I think Jesus loved these people. In fact, I am certain he did. He knew all of their names and everything about them. If the Messiah had a mission to proclaim and do the works of the kingdom of God he would have definitely had a desire for the two hundred or so people from this backwater village in lower Galilee. There are only a few occasions where Jesus speaks so directly about his identity, and this is one of them. Very often when we engage with people in some way for them to see the goodness and love of God we experience push back and then we just back away. On this occasion, with this group of people, his reaction to the first manifestation of the presence of the enemy was to wait for an opportunity to make a clear statement. What happens when they ignore the counter-attack from Jesus?

As you get to this part of the story, Jesus shifted attention from the prophecy of Isaiah to their quiet but stubborn unbelief. He chooses two events showing that God needed to go to a couple of Gentiles to find anyone with faith because the unbelief of his own people was non-existent. In the presence of demonised denial, Jesus refused to back off; such was his heart for the people of his hometown. He exposed their quiet and polite resistance by comparing it to two events recorded in First and Second Kings. A woman from Sidon had faith to believe Elijah, and a Syrian army commander had faith to go to Elisha for healing. This was undoubtedly a fierce conversation, but its purpose was to allow them to see what was happening. They were immune to the loving gesture of their God.

The response seems to have been immediate and extreme. They were angry. They rushed forward and jostled him out of the synagogue to a nearby cliff and intended to throw him to his death. Such a level of opposition would not happen again until Jesus went to Jerusalem before his crucifixion. The people who had become prisoner to a seemingly benign but incredibly stubborn resistance to previous overtures now got totally out of control. This is what happens when we continue to do deals with the devil. His efforts are silent and sombre at first, but lurking beneath is a torrent of violence and aggression. It’s not generated by the people themselves, but spurred and breathed upon by the forces of evil. I doubt that these people knew why they overreacted as they did. Such is the outcome of politely courting and accommodating darkness.

And the response of Jesus? That was quite a feature in itself. Its a bit hard to tell exactly how far they had to jostle him to get to the edge of the cliff. There are a number of different possibilities, according to the archaeologists. The point is that he didn’t resist, perhaps until the last. At that point, the power of God came and enabled him to walk through the middle of them. The last weapon of war used was his faith. If you ask why this was allowed to happen, we can only speculate (which is always a bit dangerous). I guess that he was waiting for them to realise what was going on, perhaps to change their minds, perhaps to realise that what he had said and the stories they had heard was from God. Grace and love are mighty rivers from the heart of God, and they flow in volume until the opportunity for change has evaporated. I love the sentiment of Peter found in his first letter, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”[6]  His capacity for non-retaliation was not the dutiful steeling of his will. It was the overflow of his trust in God the Father.


  1. WORD FROM GOD   When there was no response to his presence in the town as there had been in other places he waited without making any direct counter attack. I am not at all expert in waiting, but it is a weapon. He could have stood on the street corner and shouted to everyone that he was here now as the Messiah, but not; he waited until the gathering in the synagogue. Although it isn’t immediately obvious as representative of one of the seven Ephesian weapons, I think the deliberate waiting was because he was “doing what he saw the Father doing.”[7] In this case, the Father didn’t initiate, so Jesus waited. In Ephesians 6 we call that “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”[8]
  2. TRUTH    When there was no initial response, Jesus waited for the synagogue meeting and either deliberately chose the passage from Isaiah or, as some suggest, by the providence of God it was the lectionary reading for that particular Sabbath. Either way, the one-line sermon was a classic case of the Ephesians weapon of truth. Jesus made known reality that couldn’t be otherwise seen.
  3. FAITH    My way of describing faith is taking an action that shows you are trusting God to do something. We have all heard the famous phrase from the Letter of James: “Faith without works is dead.”[9] When the whole congregation of his hometown rose up in anger and began to push him toward the cliff he allowed it to happen (see above). Then, even though his life was in danger, he didn’t cry for help or begin to berate the crowd for their unwarranted vexations. At a certain point God intervened and, without so much as a retaliatory push or a harsh word, Jesus was able to walk through (not around or away from) the crowd. There would come a time when he would embrace death but, like Aragorn,[10] it was not going to be this day.


Not every work of the enemy rises suddenly and obviously. The work in Nazareth was a long slow process. Remember, any work that opposes or hinders recognition and response to the presence and work of God will only ever be demonic. There is no neutral territory, persons or circumstances. The religious teachings, lifestyles and expectations had built over the centuries. When Paul describes the presence of the enemy in 2 Corinthians 10, he talks about “strongholds.”[11] Before we start speculating about what a ‘stronghold’ might look like, he provides clarification. He talks about ‘arguments,’ ‘pretensions’ that hinder people from embracing the knowledge of God and then, ‘thoughts.’ I don’t think I will ever be able to forget a definition of strongholds explained to us by Argentinian, Ed Silvoso.[12] He said a stronghold is “a mindset impregnated with hopelessness that causes us to accept as unchangeable situations we know are contrary to the will of God.”

If you think about Nazareth or the rest of Galilee and Judea for that matter, it is easy for us to see the mindsets that had developed over the years of traditional religious legalism. When Jesus described the impact of the religious leaders of his day[13]He is describing this very phenomenon. It took a long time. It was based on a progression where human traditions were given more authority than what God had said. In the conservative, small, almost forgotten village of Nazareth, these traditions would have shaped the lifestyle of generations. Their presuppositions would have stood unchallenged. Jesus spent thirty years living in that environment.

We have our own brand of human traditions: Greek philosophies, rampant rationalism from the Enlightenment and then a host of uglies that have taken root as moral values were jettisoned in the sixties and seventies. It isn’t just values themselves. They are the effect. The cause is an underlying intention to reject God and substitute an idol. Different detail but the same old problem.

So the challenge is to maintain an awareness of what comes from God and what is derived from human wisdom that denies God. I would love you to spend half a day of normal life just thinking about the ideas behind what people say and do: news items, workplace, marketplace, family etc. You will be amazed at how subtle the accepted values are those who have nothing to do with what God has lovingly said or graciously intends. They are “arguments, pretensions and thoughts” locked down as strongholds. And they are hard to resist. Some of them intimidate us and cause us to live out our own values and beliefs secretly to avoid being regarded as weird or worse.

Jesus saw and felt these strongholds in Nazareth. When he came back to visit he knew the only loving thing to do was to challenge them. He needed to give them a shot at realising what was going on and therefore the opportunity to embrace what God was doing in their midst. That strategy involved saying nothing at first but then lovingly trying to lift the lid on their polite unbelief. On the surface, it was exactly that. Underneath it was much more sinister – as we have seen. The same hearts who were willing to say nice things about Jesus’ ability as a speaker were, a few minutes later, willing to throw him off a cliff. Such was the ensconced demonic presence.

We are left in no two minds about the outcome of Jesus’ ministry to Nazareth. It appears that no one became a believer or follower that day. Just think about the pressure on Jesus NOT to DO and say what he did and said. He could have had a nice few days at home and say and do nothing. In the synagogue, he could have stopped after the nice comments and said nothing more. We face such pressures every week. If all Jesus was concerned about was hoping his hometown people would think nice things about him, then he could have done so. But Jesus knew the havoc that had been wreaked over the decades and maybe centuries. He was all too aware of there religious bondage that was locking down his family and friends. Even though his mission to Nazareth may have seemed like a failure in some respects, at least the people had been given a clear opportunity to see and respond to the presence of the Messiah. Even though their unbelief became violent, it was out in the open. Nothing is going to happen until the covert work of Satan is uncovered and then resisted. In that sense, it was a success.   This will be the crossroads decision that we will have to make week by week if the strongholds around us are going to be challenged at all.

[1]         gives an insight into the village chosen by God for the beginning of his Son’s life journey. See John 2

[2]         See John 1:14-18

[3] See Matthew 10:34-36  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law —  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’”

[4]         See Matthew 16

[5]         See the Parable of the Sower, Matthew 13

[6]         First Peter 2:23

[7]         See John 5:19,20 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all, he does.”

[8]         See Ephesians 6:17

[9]         See James 2:26

[10]       Aragorn was a lead character in the Tolkien trilogy, Lord of the Rings: “A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends, and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.”

[11]       See 2 Corinthians 10:3-6     For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.

[12]       page 155, “That None Should Perish,” Ed Silvoso, Regal Books 1992

[13]       See Matthew 23



The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Luke 4:9-13

We don’t need to revisit the question as to whether the devil appeared physically or otherwise. Nor whether they physically or spiritually travelled to the temple in Jerusalem (read Parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t already). The devil is called the “deceiver,” after all. It is safe to assume that the episode was shrouded in deception.  Jesus found himself standing on the highest point of the temple. That, in itself, did not constitute the presence of the devil. It was an amazing building, as noted by some of Jesus’ followers.[1]  The principle to note here is the fact that this intrusion by the devil started out by utilising what might be considered as the very core of religious orthodoxy – i.e. the temple in Jerusalem.

It won’t be a stretch for us to regard the devil as capable of initiating a work by using something as core and as orthodox as the temple, especially Herod’s temple. That, in itself, represents nothing demonic.  It is the next three ideas that identify the presence of the adversary.

Like the first encounter, Jesus is challenged about his identity as the Son of God. Is he really the Son of God? Could there be a trace of doubt in Jesus’ mind? After all, he had been led by the Spirit into this ‘godforsaken’ wilderness. He had been here forty days and had eaten no food. Doesn’t sound too much like the wonderful will of God, does it?  More than that, Jesus had been living as a carpenter in Nazareth for thirty years without any ‘show’ of his divine sonship. The people of that village were pretty much convinced that Jesus had nothing to do with God when he visited and began speaking in the synagogue.[2] There is a touch of irony here about the matter of Jesus’ identity. He had just come from the River Jordan where he had heard his Father’s voice telling him that he was a beloved and pleasing Son. Now he was a long way from the Jordan, and the affirmation he received there was being seriously challenged. I think there would be many people who would testify to the fact that when they had had some strong affirming experience of God, it is common for things to happen immediately afterwards to challenge those experiences. The devil’s schemes don’t seem to change over time.

The second string to this bow suggests that Jesus should put on a demonstration. He should throw himself off the top of the temple and allow everyone in the precinct to see what happens next. In other words, to put his identity on show. This was presented as a valid “test.” We might say, “Let’s test this and see what happens.” In almost every sphere of life, things are tested to validate their quality. The reason they are tested is that it is possible that something is not working properly or that during the process of manufacture or installation something might not be sound. We are all in favour of things being tested. We feel safer as a result. Think about this the next time you sit in an aeroplane. Each plane has been subjected to thousands of tests before flying. Add to that the tests that are updated every millisecond through the gauges and lights that the pilots and engineers keep checking. The reason for these tests is that things can and do go wrong. There is some logic about Jesus “testing” his connection with heaven before he starts on a ministry journey where he is going to be the mediator of all kinds of supernatural power. He is going to proclaim healing before it happens. He is going to teach with crowd-felt authority. He is going to still storms and call dead people back to life. A pre-emptive ‘road test’ would be quite a typical human idea, wouldn’t it?  A human idea perhaps, but one that called into question the faithfulness of God.

The third part of the challenge comes as a misquoted text from the Bible. We all know the devil is familiar with the Biblical text. Perhaps the devil had taken note of the fact that Jesus was using Bible texts to frame his previous testimony. The devil has a shot at it to make the idea sound as if it has Biblical integrity. In a little less than two thousand years of Christian history we have seen enough misquoting to last a thousand times a thousand lifetimes. People have ‘proved’ things, built teaching systems, denominations and reputations on misquoted and misunderstood Bible texts and portions. We have all been in Bible study groups and have marvelled at the differences of opinion possible from the same text or passage. The very fact that texts and references are quoted to ‘prove’ or endorse all kinds of crazy attitudes and actions knows no limit. The reason it happens is that when you quote a text like the devil did on this occasion, it sounds as if it has authority. Look at the example here. Jesus was challenged to prove his Sonship – to himself and to whoever might be around the temple at the time. The Bible verse said that if he jumped off the pinnacle of the temple, some angels would come and stop him from hitting the ground. I think it is plain to see the exegetical logic involved. We need to remember that the devil knew that the Bible verse didn’t mean that. He wanted Jesus to be smashed to death on the stones of the temple court.


At the risk of being ultra-repetitive, I need to point out again that Jesus was not just parroting words from the Bible. Deuteronomy 6:16 makes an elementary point: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” It refers to what happened to the Israelites at Massah and Meribah.[3] They had no water and complained to Moses that God could not be trusted to fulfil his promise. This quarrelling and complaining were described in the text as “testing” God. They gave the place where it happened two names: Massah, which means “testing” and Meribah, “quarrelling.” When Moses reminded them of these things at the end of the forty-year journey, he was charging them not to repeat what happened.  God had proved trustworthy every day for forty years. He had provided food and water for possibly a million and a half people.  Not bad considering they were wandering in a desert.  The suggestion that God could not be trusted was nonsense at best and a horrible insult at worst.

If Jesus was using Scripture as testimony, he was making known what could not be seen. What heart attitude and experience might he be referring to? To go back to the testing associated with flying, I made the point that these tests are done because of the possibility of human error or mechanical failure. Both of those things are possible, and when 300 people are 35,000 feet above the earth hurtling along at 900 kph, it’s not good when things go wrong. So they have created all kinds of tests to make sure they know that everything is AOK. What if an aeroplane could be built and flown where there was no chance of any malfunction. If that were possible, then you wouldn’t need all the tests.

And that is the very point here. What if God was not capable of failing to keep his promise? What if there was nothing that could separate us from his love? What if he was 100% faithful 24/7? And what if you were utterly convinced that this was so? If God was trustworthy and I was thoroughly convinced of it, THERE IS NO NEED FOR TESTING!!!!

My conclusion is that Jesus had been trusting in the faithfulness of his Father God for the whole of eternity and found that there was no occasion where that trust had failed. Jesus had been raised in Nazareth and had spent thirty years trusting God’s faithfulness and timing. This love/trust relationship had been working for all of that time. It was a total certainty. So when the devil comes to suggest that he should now push a button to test it out, you can see how the devil had misjudged what was inside Jesus.

Once again, the weapon Jesus used was not a Bible reference but a personal declaration of reality/truth. It was the first of Paul’s weapons in Ephesians 6. In quoting these words, Jesus was making known something that couldn’t be seen. We will find that this is consistent with the way Jesus modelled the use of spiritual weapons of war. Again, it is important to notice that the weapon wasn’t something he picked up and fired like a gun. This weapon was something belonging to his intrinsic personhood. He HAD a relationship with God based on total trust. That trust was active and activated every day. Because it was a heart/lifestyle thing, it was easy for him to realise that the suggestion of performing some kind of spiritual sideshow in the temple precinct was demonic. The same is true of the exercise of this weapon. He didn’t need to perform a loud, flamboyant ritual to ‘cast the devil out.’ He just had to tell the devil the truth and move on. It’s a bit like flicking a speck of dust from your coat. No need for drama. No need to stop everything and write a PhD thesis on the nature of the speck. Just flick it off and keep going. In this case, the phrase from a well known Australian advertisement is true: “one flick and they’re (it’s) gone.”[4]


As with the previous two challenges, the devil had no weapons that would stand against this short statement of testimony from Jesus. He didn’t argue any point or raise any new idea. The whole intention simply collapsed. I know these accounts are concise, but the principle is profound. Think about some of the struggles you have experienced or have known about where the struggle seems to go on and on. I am convinced that on some of those occasions the length of the battle is due to other factors. One of those factors could well be that we are not using the right weapons. We are using weapons that Satan is quite capable of handling. This is especially true when we use human weapons: argument, pretension, status, manipulation, intimidation etc. Even though Jesus was hungry and had been forty days in a very remote and dangerous region, the fact that his trust in his Father had been established over time meant that he was fully capable of “flicking away the speck.”

It is also important to notice that on this third occasion where Jesus flicks away the taunt of the enemy he withdraws from that battlefield altogether. He doesn’t surrender. He just goes away and looks for what he would consider a strategic opportunity. I think there are some encouraging issues for us here. Someone once said to me that the devil could not sustain a long-term encounter. It doesn’t mean he gives up overall. It just means he doesn’t have the character strength to keep it up. From our point of view, it means that if we don’t stop resisting, then we will win. I notice that Paul makes this point in Ephesians 6. He talks about “standing.” I think that is a very profound insight into the way we approach battles. Jesus did it here. He didn’t get all charged up and go chasing the devil and focus his attention on the devil and forget about everything else. He merely resisted, and the devil got flicked. Too many people get too interested in everything to do with the devil rather than keeping their focus on serving Jesus and the kingdom.

On this occasion, Jesus didn’t change his tack. He went to the wilderness led by the Spirit. He flicked off the devil’s taunts. If he were a government department in Canberra, he would have invented five new procedure manuals and changed the name of the department a few times on the presumption that if it happened on one occasion, the whole game plan had to be changed. Not so in the kingdom of God. And there was no repeat of this kind of incident anyway. He had the same intention before this incident and the same after it. The attack changed nothing about Jesus’ approach to ministry. It was business as usual. We ought to take advice from this and do likewise.


Once again, we have watched Jesus use a weapon that he couldn’t take off or put down. Nor could he grab it to put on. This weapon had been developing from eternity. I think it is going to be true of all of the weapons. They are not going to be methods or rituals. They are going to be something we develop as part of our being. In this case, it had an attitude to God where there was total trust. For him, it was the same trust in a very different environment. If you read Philippians 2, you will see that Jesus stepped out of his status as God and stepped into humanhood. Instead of relating to his Father from heaven, he was doing it from the posture of human society on earth.But the relationship was the same, and the trust was the same. It wasn’t foolproof. As anyone can see from a read of the gospels, that relationship was maintained as a matter of critical priority.

So Jesus models for us what it means to trust God one hundred percent. When the devil came and suggested there might be a need to check it out and make sure God could still be trusted, there wasn’t room for it. The trust container was already full. No need to test something that is incapable of failing. Think about that for a while. God is totally incapable of failing. He is totally reliable. The challenge for us concerning this weapon is to be building that trust every day. Trust in God is built in the same way we build trust with others. We get to know them and the more we know, the more we trust. The more we trust, the more reason we have to trust.

I need to be building that trust. I need to do that by reading the testimony to God’s faithfulness. There are sixty-six books of it in the Bible, and there are millions of stories people have told about their experiences of trusting God and finding him to be faithful. Then, we can approach the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives by asking the question in any given situation: What would I do in this situation if I knew that God was completely reliable? Then go and do that.


I know some people like to follow some form of religious ritual when it comes to spiritual warfare. I hear them say, “We are going to go into spiritual warfare about this.” Others develop the habit of figuratively putting on the weapons mentioned in Ephesians 6 each morning. None of that comes from the modelling of Jesus. Putting on the armour amounted to hearing from God every day, worship and serving God every day and trusting God in every situation. That made him a certain kind of person, not someone who knew how to grab a gun from the cabinet and shoot at someone. When the devil wanted to turn Jesus’ primary attention to food, it just wasn’t something that held any attraction to him because what God said was always more important to him. Similarly, Jesus lived only to worship and serve his Father, God. It was a non-debatable issue and was his desired normal practice. When the devil wanted Jesus to switch to worshipping him, it didn’t ruffle a feather. Jesus had no interest in worshipping anything or anyone else. When the devil tried to get Jesus to doubt his identity and doubt the faithfulness of his Father, again, Jesus wasn’t interested. With three flicks these nasty little specs of evil were discarded like dust from a coat. He didn’t have to put on any weapons. He had been developing these weapons every day of his life. He didn’t ‘go and do’ spiritual warfare at all. He just gave testimony to what was inside of him, and the devil had no comeback. When we do the same, we will be armed in the same way. Neither physical needs nor personal ambition nor the desire to attract attention had any power.

So we need to pursue everything God has said. Don’t just read the Bible. Hear and know what God has said. Don’t just hear it but do it. Continue to pursue all of the other things that God has said. You will be armed in there day of battle. We need to make sure it is God who is the object of our primary loyalty and worship. We have to get to the point where we know what it feels like to belong to God, serve God and honour God. When that primary source reigns in our day to day circumstances, we will again be ready in the day of battle. And we need to grow in our understanding and sense of conviction that God is so totally reliable that we will never need to “test” his faithfulness to us.

[1]         See Mark 13:1 “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”

[2]         See later in Luke 4

[3]         See Exodus 17

[4]         Most Australians will remember a well-known jingle for a pest control agent called “Flick.”




Jesus and the devil direct    Part 2

5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6, And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’” Luke 4:5-8


Once again, those of us who have been impacted by western culture with its hunger for analysis will find this story frustrating for the detail that is not provided. I would love to know HOW Jesus was led to the top of a high mountain. More than that, I would like to go to that mountain to see what Jesus saw. If I was from a different age and personality type I might want to build a monument there – or three. As usual, these issues crowd in and make it harder for us to see what we ARE told.

Spiritual experience is, by definition, subjective. You can describe it, but it is not as easy to provide a way for anyone else to gain an objective appraisal. When Paul was describing one experience in his own life he talked about it like this:

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 2 Corinthians 12:1,2

Being “caught up to the third heaven” is not something we can measure or analyse. Those of us who trust Paul and what he wrote, would accept what he said even though most of us would not have had any similar experience. The point is that Paul didn’t know whether it was a physical or metaphysical experience. He didn’t know if his physical body was transported to the third heaven or not. The important thing for us to note is that the reality of his encounter with God wasn’t predicated on it. The same could be said for most supernatural experiences.

So, it matters very little whether Jesus and the devil physically left the wilderness and were transported to the top of Mt. Everest or whether he saw it in a vision without leaving his spot in the wilderness. What matters was the fact that he was being offered an alternative means of fulfilling what was, in fact, his divine calling. No need to trudge the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea. No need to be opposed by the religious leaders and misunderstood by his own followers. It could happen with one simple “adjustment”: worship the devil.

Consider for a moment what the devil was appealing to in Jesus. Regardless of the fact that it was Jesus and he was special, the targeted areas of vulnerability were very common. The first targeted his identity as the Son of God using personal needs (i.e. hunger). The second targeted personal ambition by offering a soft core alternative to his God-ordained purpose. I am aware that many people will assume that the devil showed up wearing a red suit and holding a pitchfork. When the text says, “the devil led him…”  we are left in no doubt as to who was there. I am certain that was not the case. As I have already mentioned, I think it matters little what was going on physically or metaphysically. The fact was that Jesus was shown the kingdoms of the world and told that they would be given to him. I am sure he would have known the words of Psalm 2 that referred to his calling and destiny: “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”[1]  It is possible, maybe even likely, that the “vision” of the nations turned up in his consciousness with some sense of legitimacy. If he was about to embark on a process that would culminate in his coronation as King of kings and Lord of lords, such a vision could have been seen in that light.

The presence was made known in the next statement: “And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”  The first sign of iniquity will be found in the idea that the rule of the nations” is about ’authority and splendour.’ That has nothing to do with the heart attitude of the Creator. There is no sense in which authority for its own sake has anything to do with God’s nature. God’s heart is for love and relationship. Where did you see Jesus walking around banging his own drum and beating people over the head with the idea that he was God and King? The power and authority manifest by Jesus was power under, not power over. And the glory sought by Jesus was the glory of the cross – giving people a shot at experiencing the righteousness of God that comes as a gift.[2] Once again, the devil got Jesus totally wrong. Jesus had been born in moral controversy, raised in obscurity and was now on his own in the wilds of Judea. Hardly a pathway to earthly status and splendour. The second giveaway was to be found in the idea that this dominion could be traded for the sake of personal interest. Just consider what that might look like if it were thought to come from God – trading off people and their well being as if it were a bargaining chip???? Then, the final statement was the total giveaway. The cost of this trade to Jesus would be to transfer his primary loyalty, love and commitment. Once again, this is a very common ploy of the enemy, and he has played that card well. I agree with N.T. Wright when he classifies sin as idolatry. We offer what belongs to God alone to other things: self, career, money, power, gratification, lust and so on. In that sense, we have all listened to this empty promise from Satan that we can gain some sort of status and pleasure by giving what belongs to God to someone or something else.


As the presence of the enemy was made known, Jesus was once more able to counter-attack using a quote from Deuteronomy. As previously noted, my own conclusion here is that Jesus was not just sprouting Bible words, but making something known that the devil hadn’t realised. In Paul’s list of weapons, this is the one referred to as “truth.” His righteousness here is seen in the simple fact that he didn’t rise up with indignation. He simply explained what he was not interested in the deal the devil was offering. I’ve seen some people deal with the devil by splashing their own ego and pride over everyone and everything. Jesus simply used a Bible reference to make clear to the devil that he was only going to be worshipping God.

Once again, if you think about this as a weapon, it was hardly something that you pick up and brandish. It wasn’t like that at all. The weapon was Jesus worshipping and serving his heavenly Father for there last thirty years as he grew and worked in his earthly father’s carpentry business. He didn’t turn anything on that day for special effect. He just explained that his primary worship settled. I just wish it was as much a resolved issue for us as it was for Jesus. You can see that this merely ongoing commitment was the weapon. His lifestyle pattern was the weapon. It wasn’t armour that he put on and then took off. Every time he followed after his Father’s will and every time he stood among the worshippers at some local synagogue he was stating his primary loyalty. It was the most settled thing about his life, and it needs to be so for us. When we commit to maintaining our worship and commitment to God through prayer, community, service, ministry worship, being in the Word of God – we are sharpening a weapon that will have the power to rebuff the advances of the enemy in a single word of testimony.


For the second time, the enemy totally gave up on the issue. We all know there was one more issue coming, but it is important to realise that the devil had no counter-attack for what Jesus said. Would that we were engaged in an unchallenged lifestyle of worship and service to God. Just as Jesus only had to make one statement that described the genuine posture of his lifestyle, we could do the same. What was being suggested would be immediately and fully recognised as a ploy of Satan and we would be fully equipped to deal with it. As with Jesus, Satan’s suggestion would have no power.


Without simply repeating what has been said earlier, I have come to realise that these kinds of attacks from the enemy are common to almost everyone. If you can just set aside their idea of a bloke in a red suit appearing in there Judaean wilderness and remember that the devil’s craft is deception, it won’t be hard to identify attacks like this. The challenge to keep God as the one an only god in your life is a constant challenge. The challenge to avoid the soft options the world throws up to us to accomplish a purpose in life is the same. Even if we don’t hear words like “if you worship me it will be yours”  we just have to have a worship stocktake every so often to see what the things are that are shaping our attitudes, priorities, decisions and actions. The shift of primary loyalty (i.e. worship) is often subtle. It will only be detected when we do an audit of our priorities: which things get the first and best of our attention? What things do we spend out money on? What do we give there first and best of our time to? Questions like these need to be asked and answered candidly. Alternatively, you can look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I am a servant and worshipper of God above everything else!” See if you believe what you have said. Where is the evidence? The devil will always be coming at us convincing us we don’t have time for things that used to declare our passion for following God. In the church in my home country it is entirely possible to maintain a reputation for being a committed follower of Jesus, but do almost nothing to be successfully convicted of it by the evidence. Comparing yourself to others won’t give you a reliable reading. And if there isn’t enough evidence from the last twenty-four hours to convict you of being a worshipper of God, then I would say the enemy is winning the battle.

[1]         See Psalm 2:8

[2]         See 2 Corinthians 5:21




For quite a few years now there has been a volume of teaching under the subject of spiritual warfare.  It seems that it was one of the subjects that was packaged up with others through the charismatic renewal of the 1970s and 80s.  For a while there we were anticipating that demons were waiting to get us.  It seems we always fall foul of the problem raised by C.S. Lewis. We either put too much emphasis on him or deny his existence altogether.[1] I have been guilty on both counts during my journeying as a servant of Jesus.

As a result of a prophetic word spoken to me a few months ago, I have been re-discovering what it means to be “battle ready.”  That interest has taken me back to Ephesians 6 and 2 Corinthians 10 among other places in the New Testament.  Instead of trying to identify the work of the enemy by interposing cultural assumptions or variant meanings of Greek words, I have made the assumption that Jesus was fighting battles with these forces on most days.  What follows is the first in a series of observations from the incidents recorded in two chapters in the Gospel of Luke.

I am keen to allow these “case studies” to give us a better look at the ways in which enemy presence and work became apparent.  Then I want to notice what Jesus did to overcome the enemy and finally, to see the result.  This will give us a better definition of what Paul talks about when he says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).  He previously refers to the same entities in 2 Corinthians 10, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4,5).  By far the best place for us to gain insight into how these battles are engaged and won will be to look at the ministry of Jesus first and then the ministry of the apostles.



Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness,  where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”  Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’


There are some things about this incident that are shrouded in mystery for us, mainly due to the limited amount of information given. The most obvious could be, “In what manner did the devil speak to Jesus ?” Was it through the thoughts in his mind? Was it in human form? Did he just appear out of nowhere? Was his identity immediately recognisable or did he show up as an ordinary man happening to be in the same place as Jesus at the same time? We will never know for sure. I have both a theory and an opinion. My theory is that when the Bible doesn’t give information either we don’t need to know, or we need to find out through our own experience. Empirical evidence seems to be limited as well. I have read on some occasions where a servant of Jesus was confronted by a metaphysical “person” whom they concluded was the devil, but there are nowhere near enough samples to be sure.

It is also possible that the devil didn’t take on bodily form at all. It is possible that Jesus heard the voice of the devil either in audible form or spoken within his own mind. What we do know for sure is that Jesus experienced the presence of the devil. It matters much less how that presence appeared. What mattered was that it was identified by what was said. Jesus was conscious that the devil said some things that challenged his identity and his mission. He was “taken” to specific vantage points and shown certain things. If we spend all our time trying to figure out the physics or metaphysics of it, we will miss the point. The point was that the challenger was identified as the devil and what he said and did was intended to deceive, sow doubt and destroy the plan of God for the whole earth that was being carried by his beloved Son, Jesus. It will become plain as we gain insight from the information we are given that the same presence and intention can happen to most of us in a hundred different ways. The challenge for us is to recognise it for what it is and to use weapons God has provided that results in the devil withdrawing from the battle.

I hope it will not be stretching anything in the text to say that the first way the presence of the devil showed up was in the context of Jesus’ hunger. Forty days without food and we are told he was hungry. I’ve heard some people say that when you fast with the right attitude, you won’t feel hungry. The super-spiritual idealism pushes speculation to an extreme. What rubbish. Jesus hadn’t eaten for forty days, and his body was yelling out for his attention. When I first tried fasting, I was ploughing a paddock on my parent’s farm. Round and round and no morning tea. That was followed by no lunch. My body was in full physical rebellion. I was trying to pray, but my mind kept on thinking of what was in the refrigerator back at the house. By mid-afternoon, I was in agony. I disconnected the plough and hit full throttle for home. When I got to the back gate, I leapt off in a single bound and continued leaping till I opened the fridge door and grabbed the first item that was edible. It was the remains of a leg of lamb. I attacked it in cave man style. Having quieted the screaming of my body, I tramped slowly back to the tractor to face the remorse of thinking I had failed God. I was miserable for some days. With the patient and loving encouragement of my spiritual mentor at the time, I was able to recover and serve God again. I knew fasting was in the Bible, but at the time, I just couldn’t figure out how I was going to do it.  Having now done many fasts and some for many days, the food in the fridge doesn’t hold anywhere near as much attraction, but the idea keeps bobbing around.

The devil, an opportunist extraordinaire, saw the hunger and tried to use it to suggest to Jesus that he needed to prove that he really was the Son of God. The suggestion was that Jesus should use his supposed God-given supernatural power to create food. The case was put forward something like this:

“You are very hungry, aren’t you?”

“Don’t you think you should get something to eat right away?”

“If you really were the Son of God you will have the power to turn stones into bread.”

“Have you wondered why God would lead you to come to a place like this and to be hungry like you are. Perhaps you are not really the Son of God after all? “

“If you are the Son of God why should you go hungry like this?“

“Why don’t you put that status and identity to there test right now?”

“You could resolve those doubts right now by calling for a little divine demonstration of power from heaven.”


We know that Jesus responded to the devil’s suggestion by quoting words from Deuteronomy 8. Some people think that the power is vested in the words of Scripture themselves and would presume that to sprout words from the Bible has some power in and of itself. This is clearly not the case. The most immediate example (and one of many) is when the devil quoted Bible words but twisted to suit adversarial causes.

It makes much more sense with the immediate and broader context to conclude that Jesus was using the words of Scripture to declare testimony. The words from Deuteronomy are simple and clear: Man shall not live by bread alone.  In the parallel passage from Matthew[2], ”but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  tell us what Jesus is sharing testimony about. The devil’s presumption about Jesus was totally wrong. He thought that because Jesus was hungry that his focus was on his physical hunger. We know from another place that Jesus had a profound detachment from the things that make people feel okay: namely plenty of food to eat, clothes to wear and a comfortable place to dwell. In John 4 when the disciples return to the well with some food from the town, they couldn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t  interested in tucking in. When they press him to eat, he replies, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and finish his work.”[3]  But the critical point to make is that none of these became a distraction. What was more important to him was hearing what his Father had to say. Rather than doubting his identity as a Son he was actively pursuing his Father – and the devil thought he was only thinking about his next meal!

This matter comes even more sharply into focus in the application of the principle. The challenge is not just to memorise Scripture. The challenge is to become what the Scripture reveals. Deuteronomy 8:3 calls on all of us to know how we were created. We were created to need regular food. If our bodies don’t get appropriately fed, they cry out for what they need. It is a self-preserving warning system called hunger. But there is something else that is even more important than physical food (and water). We are built to live according to what God has spoken. My word for that is revelation. God has told us things that we would never discover by ourselves. And we would never know them apart from a relationship with God where we can know what he has said. Not a book and not someone else’s experience. We are made to hear from God and live according to what we hear. When we don’t, the life we have been given malfunctions. The difference between the two is that my body automatically registers my need for food, but the need to know “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God”  doesn’t register as readily. It is developed through intentional experience. The metaphor is helpful because when we are functioning as we are designed, the hunger for what God has said will be as real and as active as our need for food. The problem is that this sense has been shut down because we have seem so adept at living independent from God. A lot of things that should be alive are dead and need to be resurrected.


When Jesus was confronted by the devil in the wilderness, he had been living for thirty years fully dependent on every word that preceded from the mouth of God. He was hungry for it and was constantly dependent on it. As the days of fasting continued and his body started objecting the objection was noted but never became an issue. He was more hungry to gain revelation from the Father than to turn his attention on seeking food. So when the devil thought he would catch Jesus at a point of vulnerability, he was completely wrong. The victory over rulers, authorities, powers of darkness and spiritual forces in heavenly realms was already guaranteed. What was inside Jesus’ heart WAS the weapon. And the devil’s idea simply had no power.

The weapons identified by Paul in Ephesians 6 can be identified in this situation:


The TRUTH was that he was only hungry for what God had to say.

The RIGHTEOUSNESS was his sincere desire for God.

The GOSPEL was the message that he(and us as well) was designed to live by what God said.

FAITH was his total trust in God’s word as the primary necessity – more than physical food.

SALVATION was the security of his identity as the Son of God.

The WORD OF GOD was the fact that the Spirit had told him to go into the wilderness.

PRAYER is not referenced in this story, but it is not hard to think that Jesus was out there communing with his Father, as we learn from watching him through the gospel stories.

The victory here was that the devil had to think up something else to foil Jesus’ preparation for the three-year ministry he was about to begin. A one-sentence testimony was all it took.



We will see as we move through these incidents from the life of Jesus is the fact that we don’t become armed and dangerous to the devil’s schemes just be sprouting a few religious words. Notice that Jesus didn’t just rebuke the devil and cast him out. On this occasion, Jesus was simply describing what was true about his modus operandi. We will be similarly armed when we develop a lifestyle based on seeking and listening to everything God has said. When that becomes the overriding passion and the foundation, we will be armed. If all we think about is the weather, the degree of inconvenience and a host of other human centred concerns, we will be an easy target for Satan. There are always plenty of things he can do to make sure we have reasons to say, “No” and excuses and preoccupations that block our need to know everything he has said. When we common practice of subjecting what God has said to humans reason, personal preference etc. it will become our “natural posture.” But when we set our hearts to be shaped and moulded by what God has said, then this will also become our “natural posture.” And when the devil shows up and tries to point us toward going after our preferences and comfort zones, we will have the same answer as Jesus and gain the same outcome. Jesus 1 v. Devil 0.

[1] There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.    C.S. LewisThe Screwtape Letters (originally 1942; this edition: Harper Collins, 1996) ix.



[3]         See John 4:34 He goes on to explain that there is a harvest going on in a place where no Jews would entertain the wildest thought of God doing things: amongst the Samaritans. Didn’t God hate those compromised heretics? Jesus was far too engaged with the harvest that had happened through the Samaritan woman he met there than he was about eating lunch.


17 Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day, he will be raised to life!”


  1. This was a further incident on the way trans-Jordan road from Galilee to Jerusalem.
  2. At a particular time, he took the twelve disciples aside from the rest of the group.
  3. He spoke these things privately to them.
  4. He told them they were going to Jerusalem.
  5. Jesus said he would be given into the hands of the chief priests and teachers of the law.
  6. He told them the religious leaders would condemn him to death.
  7. He said they would hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked, flogged and crucified.
  8. He said that on the third day he would be raised back to life.


Someone once said, “Presumption is the lowest form of truth.” Someone else has noted that a person’s perception is truth as far as they are concerned. We get a good look at that happening here.

Just think about this. Jesus was heading along the trans-Jordan road from Galilee to Jerusalem. There were more people in the group than just the twelve disciples. At one point Jesus deliberately took the twelve disciples aside to speak to them away from the others. This was the third occasion[1] he had spoken to them directly about his suffering, death and resurrection. Those of us who are not Jews living in the heightened apocalyptic atmosphere of the first century will find it impossible to walk in the shoes of these twelve pious men who knew Jesus was the Messiah. We who have heard the end of the story they were not privy to at this time find it incredulous to think that Jesus could have said these words in simple words from a language they all understood. He not only said it but created an elevated environment by taking them aside from the larger group. He not only said it once but three times. As far as the references in Matthew’s gospel are concerned, the first was in Caesarea-Philippi. After hearing Jesus talk about suffering and being killed, Peter took him aside and gave him a stern rebuke for mentioning things that were unthinkable and unacceptable; a Messiah suffering and killed? No way on any day!

The second time was in Galilee. When they heard him this time their hearts were filled with grief but they said nothing – and Jesus didn’t elaborate. On this third occasion, there was no direct response at all. However, the fact that they didn’t get it was made clear by the immediate action of James’ and John’s mother[2]. When he finished saying these words she approached Jesus to see if her two boys could have the top jobs when Jesus established his rule over the world from Jerusalem. Three times they were told, that we know of, and not the slightest degree of understanding. Unlike other matters, they seemed to show no interest in finding out what they didn’t know.

Add to this the fact that when Jesus was crucified, even his enemies knew about the prediction he had made. Here is what the Pharisees said to Pontius Pilate: “Sir, we remember that while he was still alive, that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So, give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day.”[3]  If it was so well known, how come the disciples completely missed it? We are all too familiar with the way these events played out. Jesus did go to Jerusalem. He was handed over to the chief priests and teachers of the law. He was tortured and then given to the Romans to be killed. Even if the disciples didn’t get it at the time, you would have to wonder that they witnessed all those events and still didn’t get it. If we go to the post-resurrection experience of the two disciples heading home to Emmaus,[4] we are told that when Jesus came alongside them on the road and asked them why they were upset, they gave him a cynical response. In a slightly mocking tone, they pointed out that he must be the only person NOT to have heard of the events that happened to Jesus. They even downgraded his status from Messiah (before the arrest) to prophet. Jesus then chastised them right back. You will notice that he didn’t talk to them about what he had said at least three times during the latter part of his ministry. He referred them to the books that carried revelation from heaven – the Scriptures (Old Testament to us). “How foolish you are and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”[5]  Jesus identified the source of the problem that surfaced in Caesarea Philippi (Matt. 16), in Galilee (Matt. 17) and again here on the road to Jerusalem.

To put it more bluntly, they didn’t get what Jesus had talked about on these occasions because they had missed all the prophetic information in the Old Testament.[6] Because they didn’t get the revelation they had already been given, they missed the reality when it was staring them in the face. Jesus told them it was because they were foolish. Just think of something else you or I might do that we would deem foolish and then try to see how the same folly applied to the way they read and understood what had been spoken in the Old Testament. Add to this the problem of unbelief, i.e. “slow of heart to believe.” These wonderful people who decided to follow Jesus were convinced he was the Messiah and the Son of God. As Jesus testified to Peter[7] At Caesarea Philippi, their hearts had received revelation from the Father. But the next piece of revelation was something they missed, even though they were told again and again. Instead of understanding what God had said about Messiah, they had concocted their version of what the Messiah would be and do. In the back of their minds was a picture of the Messiah based on ethnic supremacy, instead of missional love for the Gentile nations. They only saw triumphalist national pride, not servant-hearted honour. They could only conceive of victory by political suppression and knew nothing of the victory that comes through vicarious suffering. They looked for judgment on their enemies rather than forgiveness that enabled redemption.

It is easy to see how and why they got it wrong. It wasn’t just the disciples. It was the institutional systems of the Jewish religion. As Paul points out[8], these values are based on an order entirely created by the kingdoms of this world and opposed to as well as blind to the purposes and ways of God’s kingdom. How foolish of us to think that the blessing of God will produce a better version of this world’s values. We think that by using this world’s means, we will somehow achieve God’s purposes. It will never happen. This is such a subtle but powerful deception. Because we grow up with the ways and means of this world’s order, it will always be hard for us to recognise when we have defaulted to it. That’s why we need to live by every word that has come from the mouth of God. That’s why we need to take those words to our hearts and not try to shape them so that they fit our ‘this-world’ views. This was the problem for the people of God from the beginning, and it remains the most significant problem today. It is the reason they missed what the prophets said and the reason they couldn’t receive what Jesus said.

There is another message for us here. It is based on the observation that even though Jesus had told them at least three times and even though they had missed the point three times, he didn’t pursue it with them. The story just moves on. Just put yourself in Jesus’ position. You are trying to explain what is about to happen in Jerusalem. When you tell them yet again, and you realise they are not getting it, what would you be likely to do at that point? I know what I would do. I would have a Q and A session. I would ask some further and more probing questions. I would be looking for feedback. Jesus did none of those things. When he finished saying this, James and John’s mother came asking for the best jobs for her boys – when Jesus established his “this-world-style” kingdom. Alternatively, just imagine Jesus was a tutor for a small group of students, and you were his supervisor. Imagine asking him how the session went on “Prophetic Warnings about Jerusalem.” When he reported that they didn’t get it, what advice would you be likely to give – “Why didn’t you repeat it differently?” “Why didn’t you ask more questions to see what they understood?”

What we see here is the difference between revelation and information process. It is information we are talking about, and then we will be trying to inform someone’s mind. We might get them to parrot back to us what we have said. Maybe we could produce a little mantra so that it at least looked like they got it even though they might not have. Revelation targets the heart and is an encounter with the Holy Spirit – i.e. with the presence of God. That’s why when Jesus told Peter how he (Peter) could testify that Jesus was the “Messiah, the Son of the living God,”[9] he explained that it had come about because the Father (God) had revealed this to him. It was not something he had learned by academic fortitude or because another human person had convinced him. It came from an encounter with God. So when he said these things, there was no encounter with God at all. If you think that some slick educational method could be applied that would have opened these disciples to the encounter with God they needed to get this message, rest assured there is none. In other words, here is a good lesson in how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit. When people hear, but do not receive Holy Spirit revelation, you need to wait for another day. There is no point in going on about it. That will only produce more trafficking of information and will not deliver revelation. This is, again, so counterintuitive but is the way the kingdom of God works. We need to be sowing good seed for the Holy Spirit to work with but not trying to DO the work that only the Holy Spirit can do. It is far less gratifying from a teaching point of view. But it is better from a partnership-with-God point of view.

Finally, just think how different it would have been if the disciples had embraced this message. When the guards from the temple came and arrested Jesus, they would have known that he was being handed over. They said it again and again in the preaching recorded for us in the Acts of the Apostles[10]. It is an encouragement for us to know that the part of the Messianic plan they missed completely became one the central feature of their proclamation. But if they had not been as foolish and slow of heart to believe in the first place they would have been aware of what was happening in the garden; they mightn’t have drifted off to sleep while he was praying. They might have viewed the arrest in a different light. They might not have fled in fear. Peter might not have denied knowing Jesus, and when the woman came back to tell them he was alive, they might not have rubbished the idea. Two disciples heading home might have stayed in Jerusalem. Thomas mightn’t have needed to look at the scars. It would have been a totally different experience.

It is the same for us. When the powers of darkness are doing their worst, we need to know what God has said, not just the bits we like, but everything that has been said. We must not erode the power of some passages by reshaping them into a system that suits our preferred brand of theology or ecclesiology. We must not set aside things that are harder to understand. Instead, we should pursue Jesus for the understanding. There is a principle trickling through the gospels that assure us that every time the disciples didn’t get something and asked about it, Jesus gave them a greater understanding. This kind of bold curiosity will never “kill the cat.” It will open up the Word of God to us so that it becomes part of us.


  1. I would pay more attention to the things I tend to gloss over when I read the Bible, rather than persisting and pursuing their meaning until I can apply it to my own life.
  2. I would ask Jesus to enable me to understand every single thing that has been revealed and not be satisfied until I do.
  3. I would make sure I took to heart what I already know from God rather than always seeking a new word when I haven’t fully implemented the previous word.
  4. I would embrace what I already know on the assumption that by doing so I will qualify for the things I yet need to know.
  5. I wouldn’t allow a system to dictate the meaning of a word from God, but let each word to be tested and stand on its own even if it didn’t fit a pattern or system that I fully understood.
  6. I wouldn’t try and guess at answers to things I don’t understand as if wild guess or an opinion will ever be a substitute for genuine revelation.
  7. I would allow revelation to challenge and shape the attitudes, priorities and values that have become part of my life because of the culture I have grown up in.
  8. I would be willing to think and see things differently regardless of the social cost
  9. If I saw something that God said, again and again, I would realise that it was too important to set aside and would commit to the mind and heart shift necessary to fully embrace it.


Wow, this is powerful. This message IS the gospel. When Paul talked to the Corinthians church about the gospel, he told them what he had received from Jesus[11], what had been confirmed by the leaders of the church in Jerusalem[12] and what he had proclaimed to them: “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, …”  So often we turn the gospel message into a church program, a meeting or activity. It seems profoundly odd to me that we don’t have an easy way to proclaim this message in our own culture (Australian or western in general). This message has been supplanted by all kinds of glitzy self-gratifying promises. It was not a popular message even to the most committed of the disciples in their day, let alone the crowds of people who heard and saw Jesus and were healed and set free by the power of God.

The challenge is to us today, not to culturally adapt this message, but to figure out how this message will best challenge a self-centred independent culture like our own. For some, the gospel has become a scare campaign about hell (i.e. do you want to go to heaven when you die rather than to hell?). It appears that the only appeal thought to have an impact in a materialistic, pleasure-based society as to talk to them about what might happen when they die. In Jesus’ experience, that message was reserved exclusively for religious leaders who were fiercely protecting the idea that they were God’s favourites. It was never a message offered to ordinary sinners.

The message Jesus told them could be summarised in this way

  1. He was going to challenge the human problem, not by beating up on perceived enemies but by submitting to their evil intentions.
  2. The human problem involved carrying human sin to the grave.
  3. The death he would die would involve being treated like the worst of offenders.
  4. One sinless person would suffer death on behalf of every sinful person.
  5. This death would crush the powers of the enemy to keep people apart from their Creator, God.
  6. Willingness to lay down one’s life to give others the opportunity of a redeemed life would model the way of life for all future sons and daughters of God
  7. The resurrection that was to follow his death modelled the new life promised to all future disciples of Jesus.
  8. Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection were what the Old Testament story was pointing to. It was the fulfilment of everything revealed through the experiences of the people of God.

We should prayerfully interpret this for our own set of community spheres and lifestyles. This gospel message needs to be lived even more than it needs to be acknowledged and agreed with. It is the message Jesus had much to say about when he first gave the disciples this revelation in Matthew 16.[13]

[1]                 See Matt. 16:21; 17:22

[2]                 See the next part of the same story, Matt. 20:20,21

[3]                 Matthew 27:63,64

[4]                 See Luke 24

[5]                 Luke 24:25,26

[6]                 Here are some of the more obvious Old Testament passages that predict the suffering and death of the Messiah: Ps. 22,34,41,69,118; Is. 52,53; Zech. 11

[7]                 Matthew 16

[8]                 See Colossians 2,3

[9]                 See Matthew 16

[10]              See, e.g.. Acts 2:23; 3:18,24

[11]              See First Corinthians 15

[12]              See Galatians 1,2

[13]             ” Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”   Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” mThen Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”


1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. 3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went. “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’ 8  “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came, and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”


  1. Jesus told this parable to expand and reinforce the issues raised by Jesus and the disciples when a young man came seeking assurance, but when faced with his primary trust in wealth he withdrew.
  2. The parable that explains how the kingdom of God works.
  3. The owner of a vineyard went out early in the morning to hire people to work for him.
  4. He offered them the usual amount for unskilled labour – a denarius would be worth about $A200 in today’s currency.
  5. At nine o’clock he went to the village again and hired more workers.
  6. He offered them work and told them he would pay what is right.
  7. At midday and again at three in the afternoon he did the same thing, hiring more workers.
  8. Finally, at five o’clock he went and saw men who were waiting because no one had hired them.
  9. He told them to go and work in his vineyard.
  10. At the end of the day, he told his foreman to have the labourers come to be paid, starting with those who were hired last, going through to those hired first.
  11. The ones who were hired at five o’clock in the afternoon were paid a denarius for the work they had done.
  12. The ones who were hired at the beginning of the day saw that the others were paid the amount they agreed to work for and were expecting the owner to pay them more.
  13. They were paid the agreed amount, the same as the others.
  14. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
  15. They told him that it was unfair for them to receive the same amount since they had worked harder and longer than the others.
  16. The owner replied to one of those workers that he was not at all being unfair to them because they were receiving the amount agreed to when they were hired.
  17. He told them to take their pay and go.
  18. He decided to be generous to those who came late in the day.
  19. He said that he was entitled to be generous with his money in any way he wanted.
  20. He challenged them by suggesting that they were just envious of his generosity, not aggrieved because of some injustice.
  21. This is what he had meant before when he said that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.


Chapter divisions in the Bible were created for a good purpose but, like sub-headings, they can sometimes hide as much as they reveal. In this case, it would be easy to think that the new chapter would announce the beginning of a new sub-story when, in fact, it brings us to the second of a two-part sub-story.

The story began when a wealthy young man asked Jesus a question about eternal life. Jesus drew the young man to the edge of his comfort zone and then challenged him to take the next step. When he sadly walked away the disciples realised that they had given up a lot of things valued by people in this world’s kingdom in their commitment to follow him. Jesus then pointed out that the values of the kingdom represented a much bigger, longer picture. He finished that segment with the ‘punchline,’ “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (19:30) This parable also finishes with the same punchline, “So, the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (20:16) Jesus introduces the parable with the word, “so.” In this context, it is a conjunction that introduces a result or consequence of what was said previously. It just tells us not to disconnect the two segments. It also tells us that the second point illustrates the same issue as the first one does. All of this demonstrates how easy it is to miss the point by separating a verse or even a passage from its wider context. Context should be discovered and proven, not assumed.

Jesus and his disciples had just seen how the deceitfulness of wealth could rob an excellent young man of the opportunity to connect with and serve his Father in heaven. The disciples realised that they had forsaken this wealth to follow Jesus. Jesus showed how different the kingdom of God was to the kingdom of this world, first by responding to Peter’s question, “What happens to us?” and then by telling them this parable. What it comes down to is that the people who serve the kingdom of God seem to be the ones who are on the bottom of the pile as far as this world is concerned. They leave their family homes and set aside the opportunity to have successful careers and earn lots of money, have comfortable homes and go on expensive holidays. They rarely have social status and are often treated as rejects or criminals. In the kingdom of this world, the people who are thought to be at the top of the pile are the people who are wealthy, smart, educated, attractive, clever people who have successful jobs, travel often, live in comfortable homes and drive expensive cars. Like the rich young man who started this discussion, they are envied by the wider community. In themselves, these values mean very little – or nothing – in the kingdom of God.

The King of the kingdom of God accomplished the purposes of God without relying on any of them. Jesus was not wealthy. He did not parade his wisdom and teaching in a “know-it-all” way. He was not physically handsome (Is. 53), there was nothing about his life or background that gave him cultural status. His popularity, though significant was not the measure of success, in fact, he avoided the possibility of becoming a popular “cult-hero.” His arrest, trial and death numbered him among the worst of criminals according to the Roman system. He is the example for us of someone who, in the eyes of this world, was a loser. As such he is the leading exhibit for someone who looks like a loser, but became the greatest “winner.” Just for the record, that victory gained nothing for him as an individual. In fact, it cost him more than we will ever be able to measure. We were the beneficiaries of his work. I wish we could get that. I wish we could understand that personal gain at the expense of others is as destructive as any list of ugly sins you might want to make. Jesus didn’t change as he grew up in Nazareth. He didn’t change inside when he walked to the Jordan to be baptised and to Galilee to begin his ministry. The night he was arrested he didn’t summon any previously hidden aspect of his character. He was the same. He was a man demonstrating what God was like – all the way. It is the nature of God and the essence of godliness to lose what you otherwise may possess for someone else to get something they need. Personal ambition is so heinous and ungodly. That’s why Jesus added a parable to the lessons already offered through the encounter with the young man and then in the plenary with his disciples. We need to hold those two lessons in the front of our mind while we listen to this parable so that we can discover the further treasures of life as members of the kingdom of God.


1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

When we are seeking insight into how the kingdom of God operates in parables such as these, there are two things to notice. The first focuses on the activities of the owner of the vineyard. When we get to see some of the crazy ways people have interpreted parables over the years, we should only listen to Jesus when he tells us that the kingdom message of this story has to do with the vineyard owner and what he does. At this point in the story, everything the vineyard owner does is the same as all of the other vineyard owners who go to the marketplace to look for labourers early in the morning. The negotiation with them included an agreement about how much they would be paid. The denarius was the standard day’s wage for a worker at that time. Once again, every other owner would have come to the same place and done the same deal.


3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went “He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ 7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

Now it starts to get a little weird. Four other times during the day the owner goes back to the marketplace to find more men to work in his vineyard. Remember that we are looking at the owner to discover how the kingdom of God works. This has nothing to do with wage negotiations or work conditions. It is not a brief for a union leader’s meeting any more than it is expounding moral values for Christian employers. It is explaining how the kingdom of God works.

It seems to me that the owner intended to offer work for everyone. Each time he finds unemployed men in the marketplace he offers them a place to work in his vineyard. When the matter of payment is raised the amount is not stipulated except the promise to pay “whatever is right.”  He just rounded up anyone who was willing to work and then went back in case there were more who had not found employment. When he goes back with only an hour or so to go, he sounded somewhat surprised or displeased that there are still people there who had not been employed. We can only assume that the ideal underlying this attitude is that everyone should want to work and should have the opportunity. The fact that the owner continually returns to the marketplace looking for workers is because he is concerned that there will be people looking for work but no one to offer them a job regardless of what time of the day it is.


“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ 9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came, and each received a denarius.

Now the story starts getting even more strange. If this were a normal ‘employment’ situation, the owner would have paid the first workers what was agreed and then the others according to the number of hours they had worked. No one would have been surprised, and no one would have challenged the owner’s actions. Instead of doing that the owner paid the late starters the wage they would have earned if they had started at the beginning of the day. As each of the groups came, beginning with the latest, they were each paid a full day’s wage regardless of how little or much they had worked. As the workers who were hired from the start of the normal working day saw what was happening, they were not immediately upset. They presumed that this employer was generous and if so, they would be receiving more than they had agreed when they signed on. Here comes the second strange incident.

10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

The first workers would have been surprised by the owner’s payment to the late starters. They figured that if the owner were as generous as he had been with the others, they would receive more than he had initially offered. That idea came crashing to a halt when they were given a denarius and nothing more. They voiced their complaint loud enough for the owner to hear. The point they made is straightforward and reasonable: “We worked the whole day when it was hard and when the sun was hot. The last group to be hired only worked for one hour. Why should they be paid the same?” I find myself in agreement with their complaint and am keen to listen to the owner’s response. As has been the case all the way through the gospel stories, the surprise-point has been a signpost to the revelation of the kingdom.


 13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

We now come to the third abnormal action by this owner. The first was when he returned to the marketplace to find more and more workers. The second was when he paid the late starters the full amount and then the early starters the same (agreed) amount. It seems this “employer” wants everyone to be working and can’t stand the idea that there might be some waiting around in the marketplace looking for work, but not having the chance to be hired. The truth is that he has been entirely fair to them. He offered them work and offered the going rate. They agreed. They worked a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. When they complained about his generosity toward the newly hired workers, they were thinking like members of this world’s kingdom. This kingdom is about me – and when someone else gets something I don’t, a little red light goes on to tell me that this is not fair. This is the world that is built around me. It is not the kingdom of God. These workers are a lot like the older brother in the story of the prodigal son. He was upset because his foolish young brother was getting what he didn’t deserve. He had lived his whole life in proximity to a father who was gracious, merciful, forgiving and generous. What did he think when his father went out to the edge of the farm to see if his lost son was coming home? But nothing registered. He saw his father through the lens of his own self-righteousness. In his world, there was no place for redemption or forgiveness. There was no seeking and saving what was lost. It was all about doing the right thing and being rewarded for it. But we have to wait for the last piece of information to get the biggest picture in focus.


 16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This is the key moderating statement for the whole parable. In other words, it is a revelation of the nature of the King of the kingdom. We are all witnesses when a young man who, by the values of his own society was someone to be admired. He was young, rich and righteous. Everyone, given an opportunity, would have swapped places with him. He was the epitome of the “blessing of God.” In his community, he would have rated as one of the “first.” That was until he came face to face with the person who knew what the eternal kingdom was like. When the young man was called on to choose between the most basic kingdom value – i.e. following Jesus and his wealth and status, his value system was shown up, and he chose to remain a citizen of a contemporary version of the kingdom of this world – albeit a thoroughly religious one.

The disciples then realised that they had made a very different choice. They saw supreme value in following and serving Jesus Christ. As a result, they had left behind all the things that people work hard to achieve in this life. When they said as much to Jesus, he told them that their choice would be seen by the people of this world’s kingdom as the losing option. They lost the comfort of their family presence, their home village and their livelihood. They would be challenged and condemned by the religious and the political establishments of their day and would be misunderstood by most of their contemporaries. Jesus said they only seemed to be losers. In fact, they would gain family; a new kind of family – followers of Jesus, sons and daughters of a heavenly Father. To use Jesus’ words, they would lose their life for his sake and, in doing so discover fully who and what God had made them to be.[1] They look like losers, but they are eternally winners.

Now, this picture of losers and winners is expanded. The parable of the labourers in the vineyard isn’t just about generosity. It is about the late-comers being treated with the same honour as the ones who were at work from the very first hour of the day. This reveals a grubby set of attitudes that so easily creep into groupings of humans. The original people easily form themselves into an exclusive club or IN-group. You can experience this almost anywhere at any time. Notice a group of people who have known one another for a while and go try to join it. You will either advertently or inadvertently be treated as the outsider. Pressure will be latently applied for you to have to earn your right to belong. It is one of the most common toxicities of all the churches I have ever known. Usually, there will be a range of “in-groups”, and there will almost always be people who don’t have any “in-group.” They will always be treated as “outsiders.” It can be simple friendship groups. It can be ethnicity, interests, gender, age, education, employment to mention just a few.

It is different in the kingdom of God. The actions of the owner of the vineyard are a metaphor for what was happening through the gospel. The original workers (i.e. servants of God) were the people of Israel. They had started to work for God from the beginning. Jesus was heralding the kingdom message they should have brought but didn’t. Jesus referred to this when he told them that the Temple in Jerusalem was meant to be a place where people of every nation were to be honoured for the fact that they, like the people of Israel were created in God’s image and likeness and were to be loved and called into the family. This is the pay-check in God’s account waiting to be claimed by all who would “work in his vineyard.” As the message would be proclaimed, new groups of people would join the workforce of heaven. It was always going to be in the heart of the father for the most recent sons and daughters to be honoured and esteemed. Unlike the “in-group” and “out-group” experience, these outsiders would be welcomed as insiders from the very beginning. In the case of the prodigal son, he was longed for a looked for by the father. When he finally came home he was given a robe and shoes to wear and was honoured with a party. This was going to be played out in every part of the world.

It will always be powerfully counter-intuitive for a group of people to reserve their greatest welcome and their highest accolade for the newest member. We are told that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety-ninety-nine who don’t need to repent. In case you think that’s unfair, the ninety-nine who don’t need to repent should also be experiencing more joy over the fact that the outsiders are no longer outside. In fact, I think it is probably incorrect to refer to them as outsiders. They are insiders who have just become aware of it. They were created in the image of God before they decided to repent and were sons and daughters of their heavenly Father every day they were living apart from the family.

This is the message of the parable. Instead of being treated as less worthy people, the late-comers to the vineyard were regarded by God as or equal status and worth as those who carried the responsibility of the work from the “beginning of the day.” I’m sure the disciples listening to Jesus had no idea how this kingdom of God value would be tested among them. Gentiles were going to be accepted with equal joy, equal worth and equal status as Jews, in fact, those distinctions were going to lose their meaning as the wall of partition was broken down (Ephesians 2) and as they all became one in Christ (Galatians 3). This is easy for the mind to agree about but hard for the heart to embrace.

The model for these attitudes begins with God who is three persons in perfect oneness. If you were to read through the New Testament and focus only on the way Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another it would give you a picture of fully inclusive oneness. That oneness never gets a chance to become status because the commitment of each to the other and the commitment of all to the task transcends it. What you will see is a community of people who exist entirely for everyone who is not part of that group. It is totally inclusive. As we see with Jesus, there is no relationship border to cross to get from the “out-group” to the “in-group.” There is no qualification to gain. The embrace of Jesus’ love pre-empts it. Just think of all the different kinds of people who gained access to Jesus in the gospel stories. There is not a single common qualification apart from the fact that they were “sick” humans in need of a “doctor.”[2] To put it another way, with Jesus, and of course the Persons of the Godhead, there is no such thing as “them-and-us.” There is only “us.” People who are lost are no less loved and are no less worthy than those who are not lost. This is always a hard thing for religiously inclined people to fathom because they think God likes them more because they keep a set of rules. The Gospels paint a very good picture of the contrasting attitudes toward sinners between Jesus and the religious leaders. The religious leaders considered themselves members of a very exclusive club. They presumed wrongly that God liked them and hated the ones they deemed as sinners. Wrong, very wrong.

I have witnessed a lot of groups of Christian people who have achieved significant levels of oneness. It seems that the greater the oneness, the more likely they are to become exclusive rather than inclusive. They may not intend it to be so, but it seems to happen. They often project an invisible wall that separates them from people who are NOT part of that group. They tend to talk about experiences which are common to the members but not to non-members. They gravitate toward each other in a larger social setting. They sit together and talk together. They seek on another out and enjoy each other. This is so ungodly. It looks and can sound godly, but it is ungodly. God is nothing like that. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are constantly seeking those outside the group. They exist for them. They give themselves to the work of drawing the “outsiders” to the “inside.” They treat the outsiders like insiders long before they join.

This is the message of this parable. It is the only message that makes sense of the owner’s actions. He spent the whole day seeking more workers, right up to the end of the day. He treated all of them the same regardless of how long they had worked. As such, they all received the same wage. It wasn’t a reflection of how long they had worked, but of their intrinsic worth.


  1. In a room full of people, I would gravitate to the persons I knew least, rather than spend my time with the few I knew best.
  2. I would summon all the strength that comes from team bonding and use it to reach and affirm people who were not part of the team.
  3. I would eternally think of people outside my social groups as “us” and not “them.” And I would treat them as equally worthy of my attention, my interest and my resources.
  4. I would love to show hospitality to strangers as much as to close friends and family.
  5. I would make a point of treating the people I knew least with special attention so that they would feel as included as those I knew best.
  6. I would treat the newest person(s) in my world with more acute care and attention than the older acquaintances.
  7. I would make a special effort to find ways of loving and including those people in a group who are the more difficult to love and include so that they would always be accorded worth due to them as from God.
  8. I would never require someone to earn worth or acceptance. I would always offer it and work hard to make sure they got the message.
  9. I would never look at behaviour and use it to measure worth.


Through the three parts of this story, Jesus was proclaiming a gospel message that, if received, would challenge and transform personal and social culture. The young man heard a message that would challenge him to re-think his value system when it came to wealth and status. The disciples saw that same message regarding the new community and new family Jesus would build through the gospel where people would set aside cultural priorities to serve the kingdom and discover a sense of family and find treasure beyond compare. This parable, as much as any other highlights the fact that in the relational focus on the kingdom of God is not toward those who are already members. It is an inclusive club that exists only for the sake of its non-members. The most important person in this kingdom, apart from the King, of course, is the next person encountered who is outside the kingdom. They will be afforded the same worth as the longest-serving member.

This is both counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. It requires a Holy Spirit transformation to happen to our hearts and minds. We need to think differently and value differently. Just consider for a moment what any congregation of believers would be like it if existed exclusively for the sake of everyone who was NOT a part of it. Instead of members whinging about not having their needs met, they would be looking to afford special honour to the newest member. The leadership meetings would be given to finding better ways to love non-members – and so on. I don’t know any congregation like this – but I want every group of Christians I relate to, to grow to become like our Father God, and his Son, Jesus. I want us to develop a culture where the last can be first, and the first can be last.

[1]                 See Matthew 16:24-26

[2]                 See Matthew 9:12, “On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”


Matthew 19:16-30

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.


  1. A young man came to Jesus.
  2. YM What good deeds do I need to do to inherit eternal life?
  3. JC Why do you ask me about what is good?
  4. JC There is only one person who is good.
  5. JC Keep the commandments.
  6. YM Which ones do I need to keep?
  7. JC 5-9 of the Ten Commandments mentioned in this order 6,7,8,9,5 (see Ex. 20)
  8. JC The commandment to love your neighbour as you love yourself (see Lev. 19:18)
  9. YM I have kept all of these commandments.
  10. YM What do I still lack?
  11. JC For you to become a whole person you need to go and sell everything you have and give it to the poor.
  12. JC You will be regarded as poor on earth, but you will be rich in the kingdom of heaven.
  13. JC Come and follow me.
  14. When the young man heard Jesus say this, he was saddened because he wasn’t able to respond.
  15. He simply went away from Jesus.
  16. This young man was very wealthy and had great possessions.
  17. Jesus spoke to his disciples about what had happened with the rich young man.
  18. JC It is so very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  19. JC It would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
  20. The disciples were amazed when they heard Jesus say these things.
  21. PT Who can be saved
  22. JC It is impossible by human effort, but possible through the supernatural work of God.
  23. PT We have left everything to follow you.
  24. PT What will the consequences be for us?
  25. JC A new world is coming.
  26. JC The Son of Man will take his place of honour on his throne.
  27. JC Those of you who have followed me will also sit on thrones in the new world.
  28. JC You will be involved in exercising authority over the twelve tribes of Israel.
  29. JC Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, children or lands to serve me will be rewarded.
  30. JC They will receive a hundred-fold in return for their sacrifice.
  31. JC They will also receive eternal life.
  32. JC It will be different in the kingdom of God:
  33. JC Those who are thought to have great status and wealth in this world’s kingdom will be seen to be poor in the eternal kingdom.
  34. JC Those who are thought of as having little by the standards of this world will be seen to have the greatest measure of what is valuable in the kingdom of God.


A young man came up to Jesus and asked him what good deeds he needed to do to make sure he was going to heaven. Instead of answering his question directly, Jesus asked him what he meant by “good.” He pointed out that the only way to define “good” would be to reference the character of God. If God was good, then his commandments were the good works that would express that goodness. When the young man asked Jesus to be more specific, Jesus rolled out a sample of the ten commandments, in this order, 6,7,8,9,5. Then he added the commandment to love our neighbours as ourselves, taken from Leviticus 19.

The young man responded by telling Jesus that even though he had kept all of those commands, he still felt something was lacking. Jesus told him what was lacking. He needed to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Then he needed to become one of Jesus’ followers. At this, the young man became sorrowful and sadly slipped away. He happened to be very wealthy.

As he left, Jesus commented that it was profoundly difficult for wealthy people to enter the kingdom of heaven. He likened the degree of difficulty to that of a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle. The disciples were taken aback by this comment. Peter pointed out to Jesus that he and the other disciples had left everything to follow him. He asked what kind of reward would be coming as a result of their commitment.

Jesus said that there was going to be a new world order, the kingdom of God. In that kingdom he, Jesus would be ruling from his throne. The disciples would exercise leadership among the twelve tribes of Israel. In addition to that, everyone who had left family, homes and property to serve God would receive a hundred-fold and would be given eternal life. He added that in this coming kingdom, the things that made people important in this life would be seen to amount to nothing. Similarly, the people who were regarded as unimportant in this life would be honoured.


16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

There are two things about this person that we only discover at the end of this story. The spotlight seems to focus on the wealth of this young man so quickly. I don’t think that focus is warranted. The generic description at the beginning suggests that it was not the most important thing at all. Both the man and his question are not related to his age or his wealth. It would be a fair and reasonable question for anyone to ask. On this occasion, the question was sincere, unlike some other notable occasions where the motive was entrapment. The man was asking a question that came from inside of him. His follow-up question about lacking something shows the probable reason for approaching Jesus in the first place. And it is a universal concern: “What can I do in this life that will make sure I am will be going to heaven after I die.

We would have to ask why Jesus seems to shift the attention from ‘eternal life’ to what is ‘good’. As someone who was born again and raised within the evangelical part of the church, I would have loved this question and the response I would have given might have sounded something like Paul and Silas speaking to the jailer in Philippi: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…”[1]  Instead, Jesus seems to want to clear up the issue as to how they should understand “good.” The text tells us that the man wanted to know what “good thing” or what “good work” or even “good deed” would earn him the reward of going to heaven. It sounds a bit like asking what the pass score is in a graduating exam. When I was learning to fly, all my theory tests had a pass mark of 75%. As long as you got that score or better, you could proceed to the next level. If I had been asked the question as an evangelical, I would have responded by giving this man a lecture about the insufficiency of good works. But Jesus asked what he meant by the word “good.”

My way of understanding this presumes that Jesus wanted to shift the focus from him as an independent answer-giver to God. That means, he was actually saying, “If you want to know how to define ‘good’ or ‘goodness’ you can’t start with your opinion or mine. We must start with the presumption that God is the reference point for ‘good’ and move forward from there. I’ve been a Christian leader for a long time, and it is very common for someone to come and ask a question so you can give them the answer. If I give someone an answer, they can choose to agree or disagree. All they are doing is disagreeing with a human opinion. I have learned that human opinions are not worth much at the best of times. Flawed humans mean flawed opinions. There would have been a time when my ego would have been flattered enough to enjoy the fact that someone wanted to know what I thought about a matter.

What is more important than my opinion is what God has said. I have learned, over the years, that it is much more helpful to someone when I assist them to find the answer from what God has said. By contrast, if someone discovers for themselves what God has said the options are a little different. They have the option of embracing God and trusting in God rather than in the opinion of a flawed human being. They have the challenge of obeying what God has said. This will bring life from heaven rather than mere agreement on earth.

I think Jesus wanted this young man to get his answer from what God had said. That’s why he gives the simple answer: “keep the commandments.” If God is good, then his commandments are good. If we trust in God’s goodness we will embrace his commandments. We will be joining with and be coming to know God – which we know from John’s gospel is the definition of eternal life.[2]

18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honour your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

I am told that there are 613 different laws in the Old Testament. It seems that the young man was not satisfied with a generalised answer. Perhaps he was a particularly meticulous person who could only be satisfied with the fine details. More likely he was simply wanting assurance about going to heaven and wanted Jesus to give him a list so that he could check all of the boxes and then tally up his score. Once again Jesus takes a pathway that seems a bit dodgy to a good evangelical boy like me. He gives the man a list. You will recognise this list I am sure. It is taken from the Ten Commandments given to Moses on the mountain.[3] I have no idea why Jesus chose five of the ten. I also don’t know why he wanted them in this order: 6, 7, 8,9, 5. I am assuming it was not random, perhaps it had something to do with starting where the young man was at. Command six through to command nine are all very concrete and can be readily ticked (or crossed). The addition of Leviticus 19:18 is consistent with the summary Jesus gave in other places. Scot McKnight[4] calls this the Jesus Creed: love God and love your neighbour.

I don’t know whether Jesus knew how the man would respond but this conversation is an example of Jesus taking the young man on a spiritual sightseeing tour. Much more could be said about this journey than space provides here, but there is a progression. We will soon see that Jesus is aware of what is going on inside the man concerning his attitude to wealth, but it is also true that this is a quality person. This part of the conversation makes that clear. Jesus is not on a spiritual point scoring mission, nor is he a spiritual policeman focusing on defects. He is a loving Saviour seeking to offer redemption. I am largely saddened by sections of the church that reduce the gospel message to a single take-it-or-leave-it proposition. The same people are liable to see salvation as a single decision or moment. Whatever Jesus knew about this man without being told, he was willing to affirm so much about him. If I were to temporarily set aside one of my principles here and refer to other versions of this story, it tells us Jesus loved so much about this man. This is a great example of an incarnation approach to kingdom ministry. He was alongside him peering into his soul affirming what was already in place and showing him how to get from here to the next way station on the journey. It is easy for this young man to be known only by the last part of the story. I think that has more to do with our sad penchant for judgment than the text would warrant. If we take notice of the way, Jesus showed love to this man we might be less willing to make hasty judgments about a lot of people we are given the opportunity to love.

20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

It is well worth noting that the young man was not prepared to “quit while he was ahead,” so to speak. He asked one question and then a second. Jesus gave him a clear answer. He had allowed Jesus to put him to the test and he passed with flying colours. He could have walked away with satisfied approval.

This incident turns on two points and this is the first of them. It becomes clearer by focusing on what is going on inside the young man. Apparently neither the privilege of wealth nor compliance with religious orthodoxy gave him the assurance he was looking for. Instead of seeking answers at the synagogue, he went looking for Jesus. Why then, when Jesus gave him the thumbs up, was he not satisfied. The answer lies in the fact that Jesus had only talked to him about things that were already part of his life experience but his experience to that point hadn’t produced what he was looking for. I think Jesus was aware of this and was helping him to see it for himself. It was a mark of his sincerity to admit it and a mark of goodness to want it – whatever IT was.

We have to handle the word “perfect”  with a little bit of care. It is one of those words that, when translated literally, doesn’t carry the sense of the original Greek word, τέλειος (teleios).  The use of the word generally in the New Testament has much more to do with “completion” or “fulfilment” than moral or spiritual flawlessness. A screwdriver is not perfect when it is manufactured so skilfully and artistically that it looks good to the eye and feels good in the hand. It is perfect when it is pressed into the groove of a screw and drives the screw in or draws it out without slipping. If a screwdriver is used as a chisel or a lever, it not only does a bad job but it damages its capacity to fulfil its designed purpose. It is “perfect” for screwing in screws but not for levering or chiselling.

In this instance, Jesus is using this word to tell the young man that if he wants to discover what he was designed by God to do (remember he asked at the outset what he should “do”), he needs to look at a different area of his life than simply keeping specified commandments. Keeping the commandments won’t do it. Jesus now lovingly exposes the thing that is locking the man out of assurance and away from finding his God-given purpose in life. He is talking about his addiction to wealth. Instead of saying it like that, Jesus tells him what to do to get rid of the problem. He needs to replace his commitment to wealth with a commitment to follow Jesus. He is told to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Just in case we might think that a vow of poverty is the holy thing, Jesus makes it quite clear that the goal is following him not getting rid of his wealth.

I am sure this young man wouldn’t have figured this out in a hundred lifetimes by himself. His life up to that time had been built around the idea that being wealthy was a sign of the blessing of God – and in the case of a different person that might well have been the case. There are parts of Christianity today who have the same view. “God wants people to be wealthy, and if you are wealthy, it is because God has decided to bless you.”  Take this a step further, and we have the idea that such wealth is, therefore, “sacred.” To challenge anyone about their commitment to wealth would be like challenging someone about their commitment to prayer. I’m sure there were plenty of people who would have seen this young man in that light and probably some of them would have told him so.

We must not just focus on wealth itself here. In this man’s case, wealth was the primary shaping force of his life. It was the single powerful thing that locked him out of the experience of God he was seeking, but it was also the last place he would have looked for a solution to his problem. Everyone who wants to make this incident support their campaign against wealthy people should pause and think. Jesus wasn’t prescribing poverty as a higher form of existence. He was speaking with a person who had made wealth his foundation rather than God. On another occasion, Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and material wealth.”[5]  Not every person in the world who is wealthy is serving their wealth. So the issue is about choosing to serve God and not serve wealth. In this man’s case, it was the single thing locking him away from the very assurance he desired.

When we come to hear the message of this incident we need to allow this man’s commitment to wealth to stand as an example of every other thing that we can find ourselves serving instead of God. There are endless versions of this story happening in our lives and around us every day. People become addicted to the idea of serving themselves, careers, comfort, family, their physical appearance, pleasure, entertainment, power, ambition, careers, special abilities and so on. The danger of all of these is that it can be happening to us without us being aware. It can be justified, rationalised and morally defended. It can demand all of our energy and attention but leave us with an inner emptiness similar to this young man. We can serve any of these things and, like the young man, be morally upright and even look spiritual. Jesus was giving this young man his only way out of the trap. Jesus lovingly presented it as a practical task, not as a theological principle. I love him for that.

Here is the second pivot point of the story. Until now the young man has been sincerely offering questions and responses to what Jesus was saying. Up until this time, we only see the highly principled sincere person that he is. This is not some ego on legs trampling on everyone around with his arrogance and petulance. This is a sincere young bloke looking for answers to life’s most important internal questions. I am sure Jesus recognised this and lovingly helped him to get to a lookout point where he could see things that he had no knowledge of. I would love to see a video replay of this moment in the story. He came to a fork in the road and had to face the challenge of going down the road less travelled with Jesus (and without his wealth) or take the turnoff back to his world of wealth/status devoid of inner peace and satisfaction. It ought to make us so much more aware of these important spots on our trail. We need Jesus to point out the markers, and we need to see which of the alternatives he is taking so we can follow him along that path. As the Bible says, it is often narrow and windy and seems less inviting. Fewer people are taking that route, but it is the only one that leads to our completion and the fulfilment of God’s plan for us.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

The comments of Jesus to the disciples after the wealthy young man turned and walked away is an indication of his disappointment. No cheap shots at rich people in general. Just a sad sigh from having come face to face with one of this world’s saddest realities. When people become ruled by the desire for material wealth, they are literally shutting down the very part of their lives that references their identity and significance as sons and daughters of their Creator. It is a sad and ugly reality of life, and Jesus calls on the disciples to be aware of it. They have just seen a fine young man come to the point of choosing and defer to the status quo rather than the path that would have led to his destiny as a son of God.

The metaphor is telling. I don’t think there is any great mystery. The camel would have been the largest animal known to people in Palestine, and the hole in a needle was probably among the smallest openings they could think of. The love of wealth will eventually make it as impossible as for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle. There could be no greater warning and no greater revelation about the perils of loving and serving the material values of this world’s order.

The disciples were quick to do the maths. They realised how universal the problem was. It was not limited to the stately homes of the most wealthy. Materialism knows no social, ethnic or geographic boundaries. It exists everywhere. You can always tell when it is around. Whenever someone assumes that lack of material wealth is the problem and gaining material wealth is the answer, this “kingdom” is lurking. I think of it every time I see an advertisement for a lottery. The reason there are so many lotteries betrays the number of people who think that it is true. “Lack of money is never the problem and money will never be the answer.”  We have been so well taught to think like this. Even a statement like the one I have made will seem like a dreamy idealism. In a city like Canberra where I live and in western nations like Australia, wealth is heralded as a virtue. It is fated as the epitome of success.

We ought to be encouraged to know from Jesus that what is impossible by human ability is made possible by God. We ought to take note that the way to reach wealth loving people with the gospel will require a supernatural work of God. And guess what. God is in the supernatural working business. My way of reading this is to say that we need to pray for wealth loving people and not try to use human persuasion or human reason to do it. We need to look for a miracle work from heaven. Zacchaeus and Matthew were both wealthy people who came to Jesus, as was Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Sadly, this young man chose not to be numbered with them.

27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

When Peter heard what Jesus had said to the young man it obviously made him reflect on his own experience and that of the other disciples. All of them had faced the choice this young man was facing. In the case of Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew it was a stark unconditional invitation on the part of Jesus. In their case, it required an equally unconditional response. All of them had walked away from their family businesses to follow Jesus. When Peter speaks the words “What, then do we have?” is he asking Jesus the eternal life question or is he wanting to discover the consequence?

In responding to the question Jesus lifts the disciples’ vision beyond the boundaries of the kingdoms of this world and talks about the “new world.” I am going to assume that it was the new world of the kingdom of God. We ought to be more than a little wary of making this a comparison between life this side of death and life after death. The New Testament teaching about the kingdom of God does not encourage this polarisation. The comparison it always draws is between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God. These are going to co-exist until the time when there is a new heaven and a new earth.[6] When he talks about the new world, he uses the same language as he will later use with John and recorded in the Book of Revelation where there are thrones and tribes and ruling. Paul uses the same language. Jesus will testify to the Sanhedrin that they will see “the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One..”[7]  This is a present reality for us, and it was about to happen for the disciples. Their choice to follow Jesus meant that they were going to see Jesus taking his rightful place as Lord and King. It was going to happen through his death and resurrection, not by raising up an army and overthrowing Rome. When they were all filled with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, they began to exercise the authority of their king. Their “thrones” would be the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. The rule they would exercise would include events like the one that happened at the gate of the temple: “Silver and gold I don’t have, but such as I have I give to you, in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.”[8]

Jesus went on to speak about all those who, through the generations, will set aside the normal pathways taken by people who know only the kingdom of this world. They will set aside the comforts and assurances of home, family and possessions to serve Jesus and the kingdom. Rather than losing out, they will gain a hundred-fold. Most of us who have spent our lives serving Jesus will be able to testify to this. Other buildings become our homes, other localities become our homeland, and other people become our family. This goes on multiplying as we go on discovering kingdom family and kingdom work. We also experience eternal life. It is not something we are going to need to die to gain. It is something we have begun to experience now and will fully experience after this life. In that kingdom, the people who had earthly status and power often find themselves under the covering leadership of people who were not recognised by the kingdom of this world. Thankfully those values don’t transition.


  1. I would be careful to make sure that everything about my life was an expression of the Lordship of Jesus. I would be consistently reviewing and renewing my commitment and offering everything to Him for His purposes.
  2. I would ask others to help make sure that I don’t have areas of my life ruled by desires and ambitions that take priority over serving the kingdom of God.
  3. I would seek to become more and more generous with my finances, my material possessions, my time and abilities so that they were all seen as tools available for God’s use, not signs of my significance.
  4. I would continue to hear and heed everything Jesus said. In this way, the things in my life that do not reflect my commitment to Christ would become apparent. As they did, I would want to do what the young man was not willing to do. I would want to leave no area of my life independent of God’s rule.
  5. I wouldn’t fear to do things that may, at the time, seem unpopular with my family, friends or authorities and I wouldn’t fear the idea of moving to a different place to serve God. I would be able to celebrate the houses and circumstances and the sense of belonging to other members of God’s family – and know that I could continue to love my own family and value the familiar places without being ruled by them. Home becomes the will of God.
  6. I would be able to accept the idea the possibility that there are things that I am doing and values that I protect that are not part of God’s plan for me. They may not present as destructive or wicked because they represent accepted values that have come from my culture or peer group. But they are locking me out of the very experience of God that I sincerely desire.


I think there are two different gospel messages in this incident. The first one is the message conveyed by Jesus to the young man. It is important to notice ALL of the message, not just the last part. Jesus affirmed his respect for the lives of other people, his commitment to sexual purity, his respect for the property of others and his commitment to honesty. He also confirmed his love for his parents. Beyond that, Jesus publicly acknowledged his love for fellow humans. That’s a great start to a gospel message. I wonder what would happen if we were as willing to acknowledge the things that are good in people who are far from God rather than what is bad? When I was in Bible College, it seemed that a gospel preachers task was to paint the worst picture possible about “sinners.” Maybe a theological idea called “total depravity” should carry some of the blame. I could never quite get used to that idea when I was a theological student, and I can’t see it anywhere in the ministry of Jesus. Here is a good example of why that was a bad idea. That the challenge for him to sell his possessions and follow Jesus came after such affirmation might be a good practice for all of us to develop. There is a much greater chance of someone seeing the challenge to sell possessions etc. as a loving thing, rather than a social, moral or political judgment. Let me say it again. Possessing wealth is not immoral. Loving it will make it impossible to hear the good news.

The second gospel message was to the disciples. It was the challenge to see the issue of setting aside normal family, normal job and normal possessions as the doorway to a bigger vision – becoming a part of God’s family, living in God’s house and stewarding God’s property for God’s purposes. That is the first down payment of the eternal life Jesus promised. How profound a promise this is. My own story would testify to that. When I left the farm and my family to go and serve God, it was so hard. My family didn’t understand, and there was deep pain. The longer story saw all of those relationships become stronger and better than ever. At the same time, I met mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, lived in houses and stewarded resources in the kingdom that would never have happened if I had allowed family culture to set the boundary lines.

[1]                 See Acts 16:31

[2]                 See John 17:3 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

[3]                 See Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5

[4]                 The Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight, Paraclete Press 2014

[5]                 See Matthew 6:24  “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

[6]                 See Revelation 21, “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

[7]                 See Matthew 26:63,64: “The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

[8]                 See Acts 3


13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.


  1. While they were still in the Trans-Jordan region and crowds were still coming to hear Jesus and be healed, people began to bring their children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray for them.
  2. When the disciples became aware of this, they told the parents(mothers) to stop doing it, as if it was wrong, or improper or something similar.
  3. Jesus then corrected the disciples.
  4. He told them to allow the children to come to him.
  5. They were not to hinder them in any way from coming.
  6. He said that there was no age limit in the kingdom of heaven. It belonged to children as much as to anyone else. In fact, when children came to be blessed by Jesus it was one of the distinctive signs of the presence of the kingdom.
  7. Jesus laid his hands on every child.
  8. When he was finished praying for every child, he moved on from that place.


In addition to the presence of critical religious leaders, there were children, most likely supervised by their mothers. The presence and activity of Jesus encouraged them to set aside cultural convention. Wanting the best for their children, the mothers began to bring them to Jesus so that he could bless them. The disciples saw themselves as the gatekeepers of the operation and began to enforce the cultural norm. Jesus immediately stopped them. He told them to let the children come. He actually told them to make sure they were not hindered in any way at all. Then he took the opportunity to explain yet another cultural difference between the kingdom of God and the traditional religious culture of their world. Children were as important as anyone else in God’s kingdom. When children were coming to him to be blessed and prayed for, the will of God was being done on earth is it is in heaven. The kingdom was happening before their very eyes. Instead of preventing it they should have been celebrating it. After he had laid his hands on all of them and prayed for them, Jesus moved on from that place.


13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people,

Children and families are the same all over the world and in every age. Take away a few cultural distinctions, and you have the same phenomenon. In Jesus’ day, and still, amongst some peoples around the world, small children were almost exclusively under the supervision of their mothers and were to be “seen but not heard.” At certain times and in certain places they were not to be seen as well. If a famous rabbi were teaching and, in the case of Jesus, healing people who were sick, the men would have been closest to Jesus, and the woman and children would have been at the edges of the crowd or even further away. That distance represented a  strong social boundary.  Crossing it would require a lot of courage or a great sense of liberty.

I continue to love the way Jesus’ presence and the way he went about his ministry was as powerful a message as his actual words and miracles. Jesus is not just a messenger. He is the presence of God. The environment created by his presence is the environment of heaven. The attitudes he displays and the priorities are also those of heaven. This incident involves four different groups of people:  Jesus –  representing God/heaven; the crowd – representing people who wanted to listen or receive healing;  the disciples – who had followed Jesus and seen and heard everything from the first days in Galilee;  finally,  there were the mothers with their children – those with the least social status. What makes the mothers stand out from the rest in this instance was the fact that they were the only ones who saw that the kingdom of God was different to the kingdom of their contemporary culture. The crowd and the disciples thought that the cultural boundary that kept the women and children at or beyond the edges should not be challenged. Jesus did not announce that when he was finished praying for the sick people he would pray for the children. But something very special was happening that Jesus saw and responded to: the mothers began to bring their children to be prayed for.

I think there was something about the presence of Jesus that was more than amazing speech and miraculous power. No one thought of giving the women an invitation to bring their children to Jesus. Even though it was against social custom, they were able to recognise the domain of the king. As such, they felt an inner permission to step over long-held cultural boundaries and bring their children to the centre of the crowd where Jesus was and ask him to bless and pray for them. I am confident to identify this phenomenon as a kingdom of God manifestation because of what Jesus said later when he was telling the disciples to stop trying to prevent them from coming. I know western analytical headspace doesn’t easily relate to this idea, but it does make sense of the silent initiative of the women and the way Jesus explained it.

If this is true, there is another aspect of what is going on for us to observe. It seems common for things to happen around Jesus that are not actively precipitated by him. Perhaps it seems unusual just because I come from a different cultural perspective. So many things happened for which there was no foundational teaching or initiative from Jesus himself. Roman officers came and honoured him, prostitutes and tax collectors welcomed his company. Lepers and marginalised people somehow presumed a welcome in him. The disciples broke Sabbath laws without any instruction. The list goes on. When did Jesus give a teaching that invited such actions? Not specifically and not often – if at all. On this occasion, in the east-Jordan region, why didn’t Jesus see the mothers with their children and invite them to come so he could bless them? I am willing to suggest that it had to do with the way Jesus partnered with the Holy Spirit. Our way of doing business is to put everything up front and hope that everyone will get it just because we have said it. I think Jesus’ way was to say certain things, but realise that there was a separate, but complementary work of the Holy Spirit that he was a partner with, but for which he was willing to create space. I cannot tell you how deeply I love the way many people who should have “got it” missed it and how the people who weren’t expected to “get it” got it. On this occasion, it was the mothers with their children.

The disciples’ attitudes and actions are well documented for us in the Gospels. They provide us with a very helpful mirror image of what often happens to people like us who are sincerely committed to follow Jesus but still have our “L” plates on. If you allow the action in this incident to slow down just a little, you will notice that the mothers were bringing their children to Jesus based on the fact that they were “reading” the situation from a genuine awareness that Jesus was different from the established religious culture. He was also different from the broad culture that had dominated the nations of the Middle East for centuries. That difference was measured by a distinct sense of loving welcome to all who came. They had seen it with the people who came for healing. No one had been turned away. All were touched and blessed. The disciples saw Jesus welcoming them, but still felt they should step in and take control of the situation. Women and children out. They were so sure of their actions here that they were not just politely providing a gentle push back. The text says they were rebuking them. This is the word that describes Jesus commanding the wind to stop and/or demons to leave. They were sure they were right, and the women and their kids had totally overstepped the mark.

Think where they were getting that idea from. They were followers of Jesus. They had watched him accept and receive all kinds of people. We have a range of sources from where we draw attitudes and motives for the things we do.  In the case of these disciples, why would they be so assured that Jesus would agree, even thank them for their intervention?

They would have been far better served to look at what Jesus was doing and then figure out what, why and how they needed to adjust.  It must have happened a lot as they watched and heard Jesus day after day.  On this occasion, they would have learned that children matter as much as anyone else in the kingdom of God. They were in the same environment as the women but weren’t getting the same message. The fact was that they were taking their cue from the religious culture that had wrapped its ways around their minds and hearts for the whole of their lives up until they met Jesus. On this occasion, that same culture jumped onto the front and centre of their radar, and they acted in league with it.


We are so very prone to doing this. Culture and cultural values are the sneakiest things around. We can be totally committed to following Jesus. We could have left everything to follow him, but that wouldn’t simply delete all of the cultural defaults we had practised every day in the former kingdom. I can see it in myself and others. We seem to have this capacity to hop right back into the ways of that old kingdom without realising it. We should be taking our lead from Jesus, watching him and embracing what we are seeing and hearing. There should be a battle going on with the defaults. It is like we are addicted to the old ways and ready for a fix at any moment.

14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

There must be a special brand of disappointment within Jesus when people who are sincerely following him unwittingly hinder the coming kingdom of God rather than serving and celebrating it. These first disciples did it, and so do we. We create issues and take actions that stop God from doing what he lovingly desires – and we do it with an assurance and determination that we are pleasing him. The same thing was just about to happen in Jericho. When blind men called out to Jesus as he was passing by, the gatekeepers of the King told them to shut up and be quiet. They were presuming that Jesus should rightfully ignore such brazen presumption from two “nothing” persons. [1] When Jesus stopped and asked after them, the gatekeepers had to adjust their attitudes quickly. What does Jesus think when he sees the church that is supposed to carry his honour to the wider community bickering and fighting over things that will never amount to a hill of beans in the kingdom of God.

It is important to notice what Jesus does with this sad little demonstration. He could just chastise them and nothing more. They would have learned that Jesus disapproved. Often that’s all we give people when they disappoint us and us when we disappoint them. In this case, Jesus turned the situation into a learning moment: in the kingdom of God children matter – big time; it is a very serious thing to get in the way of children. Jesus talked about a mill stone being tied around our neck and then being thrown into the sea. Hindering is full of horrible consequences both for the children and for those who put a stumbling block in their way. Parents need to keep learning how to minister Jesus to their family and how to lead them to him by modelling the Jesus-looking-life around them. The main thing Jesus wanted the disciples to see was that even though what was happening with the mothers and their children was offensive to the mainstream culture of the day, it was normal in the kingdom of God. What they saw as improper or presumptuous was actually the kingdom of God happening before their eyes. Whether the mothers fully realised what they were doing or not, they were giving tangible expression to the kingdom of God. In the kingdom of God, the least in this world’s eyes is as great as the greatest in this world’s eyes. Remember what Jesus will later say very soon in the story, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me.” [2]  When the least get to be celebrated, and when they receive honour and abundance, heaven is happening on earth.


I would be able to look at a situation from the point of view of the kingdom of God. We have recently been asking ourselves this question: “If the kingdom of God fully came to this sphere, what would be different?” In our spheres, it may not be the women and kids who are being excluded and thought of as of lesser value.

If I were going to be like Jesus in an environment, I would be attuned to see who was at the bottom of the pecking order and then have the courage and love to find a way of declaring their worth. A well known Australian public figure I knew used to do this very thing. Whenever he came into a room, he would often be considered the most important person in the room. He would deliberately make every effort to start shaking hands with the person or persons who might otherwise be considered unimportant.

I would be continually challenging and changing the overt priorities from the top of the social pile to the bottom. When I did this, I wouldn’t just be trying to score political points, but to bring the full blessing of heaven to those who are the outsiders. I wouldn’t be ashamed or reticent about doing this openly but respectfully.

I have been to so many Christian gatherings where the pecking order is made ve obvious. There are the most important people and the lesser important people. It doesn’t have to be about ethnicity. It can just be the way people in a room create an exclusion zone with their one or two friends. Other church members and strangers are politely but profoundly excluded

In some cultures, pastors are treated as a class above everyone else. How ungodly can you get? That people think like that is bad enough. That the pastors themselves trade off this is even more tragic. What everyone gets to see is just another boring version of this world’s kingdom culture.


The gospel was proclaimed to the crowd when Jesus welcomed the mothers bringing their children and prayed for them. It was proclaimed to the disciples when Jesus called on them to allow the mothers to come. It was further proclaimed when Jesus identified the kingdom of God for them. The crowd and the disciples had the choice of accepting what Jesus had said, repenting (i.e. changing their view and rejecting the previously held traditional cultural value) and embracing the lifestyle of the kingdom by honouring and esteeming children (and women) as equally worthy of attention and blessing from heaven. This is a very practical expression of the gospel. There are hundreds of ways in which we can proclaim the gospel just by living out the values of the kingdom of God openly in the company of others. We should not do it to put on a show, but to pour blessing into the lives of people God loves who are neglected by our selective and unfair set of traditional values.

[1]                 See Matthew 20:29-33

[2]                 See Matthew 25


1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning, it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

 Matthew 19:1-12


  1. Jesus left Capernaum where he had been giving the previous teachings.
  2. He entered the region of Judea that is east of the Jordan River.
  3. Large crowds followed him to this region.
  4. He healed the sick people who came to him there.
  5. Some Pharisees came to him intending to test him so they could expose his heretical or unorthodox beliefs and practices.
  6. They ask him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.
  7. Jesus answered them by reminding them of God’s intention for married couples at the beginning.
  8. God made two species of human beings: male and female.
  9. God’s intention was that a man and a woman would transfer the primary relationship from their parents to each other.
  10. Marriage would be a journey toward a unique relationship defined by one-ness, described metaphorically as “becoming one flesh.”
  11. He repeated that they would no longer live as two separate or independent people but operate as a single unit of two parts.
  12. Marriage would be defined by the fact that God had joined the man and woman together.
  13. The process of discovering oneness was to last for the whole of life.
  14. The relationship could be destroyed by what people do – either the man and the woman or other people with the consent of the man or the woman – but this would cut across the intention of God.
  15. The Pharisees challenged Jesus’ answer by telling him that Moses had commanded, in Deuteronomy 23:1, that husbands write a certificate of divorce when they decided to end their marriage.
  16. Jesus replied that this command was only given because of the stubbornness and hardness of heart among the people, not because God wanted marriages to end.
  17. He re-emphasised the fact that God’s original intention was stated in Genesis 2.
  18. Jesus said that for anyone to divorce their wives, other than for sexual infidelity, would be committing adultery if they remarry.
  19. The disciples made a comment to Jesus that if what he had just said was so, then it would seem to be better if a person didn’t get married in the first place.
  20. Jesus told the disciples that he was going to say something that would be difficult for some people to receive.
  21. He was saying it so that the people who needed to hear it would understand.
  22. He said some people would not marry because of their particular personality type.
  23. Other people want to be married but are prevented by humanly created circumstances: individual and/or societal failure.
  24. Other people who might have been suitable for marriage would not marry because of their commitment to serve the kingdom of God.
  25. Jesus called on everyone who was able to understand what he was saying to make sure they took on board what he was saying.


Jesus left Capernaum in Galilee and was making his last journey to Jerusalem. He took the usual route taken by Jewish people. Instead of taking the more direct route through a sometimes-hostile Samaria, they travelled along the eastern side of the Jordan River until they were in Judea and then went up to Jerusalem. This incident happened while was still in the region east of the Jordan. The crowds that had come to him in Galilee continued to come to him seeking healing and to hear his teaching. He healed the sick people who were brought to him.

While he was there, a group of Pharisees came to him and asked him a question. Their enquiry was motivated by their desire for him to further incriminate himself, i.e. to confirm their belief that he was a dangerous subversive. The question they had selected had to do with marriage and divorce. They asked Jesus to agree that the Scriptures taught that a man could divorce his wife for any reason.

Jesus did not directly answer the question they asked. Instead, he challenged them to notice what God has said about marriage at the very beginning, as recorded in Genesis Chapter Two. God affirmed that he had made two different species of human beings, male and female. Marriage was to be between a male and a female. Marriage was made possible when a man transferred his primary loyalty from his parents to the woman. He was to be joined to her. She was to become his wife. She was to be joined to him. He was to become her husband. Marriage was defined as an exclusive union where the two persons would cease to live as separate individuals but would become a single unit. That oneness was described metaphorically as becoming “one flesh.” The beginning of this relationship would be identified with the two being joined by God. Jesus said that it was imperative for everyone to honour this bond because even though it was endorsed by God, it could be severed by the actions and influence of people – either one or other of the married couple with the encouragement or involvement of others. They could destroy the redemptive union that God was creating and building.

The Pharisees rejected what Jesus had said by referring to something Moses had written in Deuteronomy 24. Moses said God had commanded men who had decided to end their marriage to write a certificate of divorce in order to send her away.

Jesus explained that what Moses had said was in harmony with the words he has referred to. The reason they were given was not to permit a husband to send his wife away but was because stubborn and selfish husbands were treating their wives so shamefully that he introduced laws to provide at least some protection for those mistreated wives, namely a certificate of divorce. He repeated that there was no intention of God other than the one stated in Genesis 2. Jesus further explained that the only reason a husband should think that the marriage covenant was broken would be if the wife had given herself to another man by sexually bonding with him. If a man severed the covenant commitment with his wife for any other reason in order to marry someone else, he should consider himself to be committing adultery with that woman.

The disciples were listening to the discussion and were more than a little stirred by what Jesus had said. They were not stirred about the nobility of marriage but by the fear of circumstances that could lead to adultery. How strange that they would presume that if marriage was something that lifted humanity into this holy sphere that the preference would be to remain unmarried.

Jesus responded to the quip by bringing revelation about the question of who shouldn’t be married. He pointed out that a lot of people would hear what he said but wouldn’t understand. Others would hear and feel greatly affirmed. There are certain people whose personality type predisposes them to live a completed life without feeling the desire to be married. A second group would definitely feel the desire to be married but would be forced by human decisions and circumstances to remain unmarried. A third group who might otherwise want to be married would not marry because of the way they wanted to fulfil their calling to serve the kingdom of God. Jesus called on all those who were able to hear what he was saying to embrace it fully.


1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. 2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

This sentence describes a massive shift in the ministry focus for Jesus. He left Capernaum, where he had made his operations base, and set off to go to Jerusalem and the cross. Instead of going directly through Samaria he took the normal route for Jewish people, along the eastern side of the Jordan River and then up from Jericho to Jerusalem. The East Jordan route went through a region called Perea and is loosely identified with Judea since the Jordan forms the border between the two. The crowds followed Jesus as he travelled along this route and the same things were happening as at the beginning of his ministry. People were coming to hear him preach and teach and were bringing their sick family and friends in the hope of receiving healing. The willingness of Jesus to bring good news to the poor, healing, freedom from demonic captivity are as evident at the end of his three year ministry period as they were at the beginning.


 3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Where there was a crowd, it seems, religious leaders were watching in disapproval. On this occasion, they approached Jesus with a question. They weren’t interested in discussing the subject in order to gain understanding. It was not a sincere gesture in any way. They wanted to provoke him so that he would say or do things that would incriminate him. When he was brought before the Sanhedrin on the night of his betrayal, witnesses were brought to testify against him. On this occasion, these Pharisees were gathering information with that end in mind.

It is of interest to consider how they thought to trap him with the question they asked. It is a feature of the Greek language originally used to record the New Testament that a question can be asked where the presumed answer is anticipated by the way the question is asked. If this case it would sound like this: “It is lawful to divorce someone’s wife for any reason at all isn’t it?” They are presuming the answer to be “Yes of course.” There is no way of understanding exactly how the entrapment was planned. We can only assume from the way the discussion unfolded that they suspected Jesus would answer the way he did and then they would pull out Deuteronomy 24:1 to prove his error. Perhaps they had heard or been told what Jesus said in the sermon on the mount. Perhaps he had said similar things on other occasions. If this was the case, their question could be paraphrased along these lines: “How come you are teaching everyone that it is wrong for a man to divorce his wife for any reason that he chooses?” The question itself doesn’t place value on providing a secure home for children, or for a woman. It sets the higher value on a man’s right to choose. It sounds a bit odd to our ears when we have been used to hearing phrases like “a woman’s right to choose” in the abortion debates of recent decades. The question also treats the idea of marriage itself as of less value than the rights of a man. If his wife doesn’t please him, she’s out on the street in a society where there is no welfare. She is not only on the street but off limits to any other man who might “pick her up.”

In his reply, Jesus provides us with a helpful case study in hermeneutics (or the principles of Bible interpretation). The Pharisees represent an interpretation of divorce laws found in Deuteronomy 24. God is telling Moses what husbands should do if their marriage is no longer viable. The certificate of divorce means that the woman who is being thrown on the street will not be prevented from marrying another man. It is a law that provides welfare support for unwanted wives. Jesus reminded them of what God had said about marriage as recorded in Genesis 2. The Pharisees were using Deuteronomy to guarantee husbands the right to choose. Jesus was pointing those same husbands (and their wives) to the lofty redemptive goal God had called marriages to accomplish. The Pharisees were doing what individuals and groups so often do. They selected the passages that serve their self-interest and ignored the bits that didn’t. The outcome for broken humanity seemed to be how to get God to bless my divorce. By contrast, God’s attention was focused on helping married couples to become one.

Jesus reminded the Pharisees of God’s intention for marriage. It was given to the man and woman who formed the first marriage and involved five features:

(a) it was designed to be a relationship between an adult male and an adult female.

(b) it was to be formed through the husband and wife setting aside the primary bond with their parents and forming a new primary bond with their husband and wife.

(c) The relationship was to be a journey toward a greater and greater experience of oneness. This oneness was to be so all embracing that it could be described metaphorically as the two becoming “one flesh.”

(d) The oneness would be built on the foundation that God had joined them together.

(e) This relationship was always going to be based on free will choice; in other words, it could be destroyed by human attitudes and actions.

It was this oneness or unity that Jesus was reminding the Pharisees about. Marriages might fail due to human factors (either the husband and wife themselves or through the involvement of others) but it was not the intention of God. The idea that what God was giving bad husbands the right to destroy what he had created at will was unthinkable. Similarly, that God should be used to approve the sabotage of something so sacred was scandalous.

7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

The plot of the Pharisees seemed to be going according to plan. The important thing to notice is not just THAT they missed the point of Genesis 2 but WHY they missed it. It shows their appetite for casuistry. In its best sense, casuistry is the idea of forming an opinion or coming to a conclusion by looking at case histories relating to the matter at hand. The classic sphere is the law courts. Prosecution and defence lawyers will seek to base their arguments on sound precedents coming from previous cases. It is of interest that the word in our language has come to be associated with deceptive reasoning where people use points of law that were designed to create a better society for dishonest personal gain. It’s a bit the same with accountants. Whenever a new set of tax laws are enacted, large companies pay large sums of money to accountants to find the best way to exploit those laws. All of that to describe how these religious “lawyers” worked. They spend a lot of time talking about various issues of the law of Moses. As time went on the notes and definitions of the text of Moses became more important than the text itself. Indeed, the oral traditions were regarded with greater reverence since they were supposed to apply the principles found in the text that no ordinary person was capable of understanding. It is easy to see who gained power out of this process.

The best way to view the principle of interpretation that Jesus explained to them is to see how he linked the two. For him, there was no argument between them. God wasn’t guilty of saying one thing at one time and then the opposite thing at another time. The only way to allow each of these statements to stand together is to follow what Jesus said. Even when you read the full text of Deuteronomy 24, it is clear to see that the context is not to deconstruct Genesis 2. It is to make sure that when a marriage is going to finish through the destructive failure of human intervention, that the most vulnerable person in the relationship will be given some protection. NT Wright[1] gives a good illustration of the intention of Deuteronomy 24 when he likens it to a set of instructions in the owners manual of a new car which includes a check list for what to do in the event of a crash. The check list is not there to encourage people to crash, but to help them if one occurs. The car is not built to be crashed. It is built to avoid crashes. But crashes sometimes happen. When they do there are things that help people survive and recover. Deuteronomy 24 is such a check list. It is not an encouragement for people to drive their new BMW like a drivers do in a Demolition Derby. I don’t know if you have ever watched a bunch of cars with huge protective bars around the drivers go at each other until only one car is still running. God has created husbands and wives to find out how to work together, so that become one. That oneness fills and celebrates their particular gifts and callings rather than limiting them. It composes a symphony of unselfishness. It involves both mysteries and understanding. Problems are resolved by moving away from two-ness in the direction of one-ness.

If the Pharisees had understood all of that, they would have approached the passage in Deuteronomy very differently. They chose to speak about the issue as if Deuteronomy was the only information given on the subject. Jesus linked the two in the only way that makes sense. The husbands among the Israelites were failing badly. Copying the cultures of the surrounding nations, men were sending their wives away to both poverty and misery. The situation was so bad that God himself stepped in to rescue these poor women and gave a command to hard hearted unloving husbands who had totally missed God’s intention for their marriage. By this command, at least, the women were given some protection. It was a divine response to persistent human sin.

We ought to be on the lookout for this kind of aberration of Scripture in our own experience. It is so easy to try and rationalise Scripture to cover our weaknesses rather than allowing our weaknesses to be transformed by God’s power until we become what the Scriptures are talking about.


9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

During my years of Christian leadership, I have seen fellow believers treat the words of Jesus the same way as the Pharisees were treating Deuteronomy 24. They are looking for a line that will determine when it is right for a marriage relationship to end. The answer is ‘never’ as far as God’s intentions are concerned. I am not suggesting that a woman should remain in the home where the covenant commitment of a husband has disappeared and what remains is physical or emotional violence or its equivalent. Jesus points out that there are things that have the capacity to break the covenant “asunder.” Sexual betrayal is one of those. When one or other of the partners in the marriage forsake their commitment to sexual fidelity and become bonded to someone else in a sexual relationship, the covenant is broken. But Jesus is not so much defining the boundaries of the covenant but citing reality. In my lifetime I have seen governments try to enshrine these principles in law. It was illegal for a person to divorce unless they could prove that their spouse was involved in an adulterous relationship. The sorry situation saw private detectives being hired to take photos that would establish the fact of adultery going on. It was then considered permissible to divorce.

Rather than succumbing to the pressure of human failure in marriage, Jesus was reaffirming its high calling. Of course, there would be failures, but the effort and focus should be on making the marriage strong, not sacrificing its honour by seeing who will win the race to the divorce court. Current figures in Australia show that marriage break ups cost the public purse seven times as much as it would if the marriage stayed together. And that doesn’t count the emotional and social costs to family members etc. There are no winners in a marriage break up.


10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

I love the way the New Testament records responses like this from the disciples. Commonly, in gospel stories, we have interactions between four different groups of people: there are crowds and individual people seeking Jesus, Jesus himself, religious leaders who are opposed to Jesus and disciples who are passionate followers. We get good ‘video clips’ of them all. Their intentions and reactions are all solidly recorded with winsome honesty. On this occasion, the disciples have observed the crafty approach of the Pharisees and were probably not surprised at the forthright answer Jesus gave. Characteristically, he didn’t take their bait. He offered them the best of the kingdom of God. On this occasion, he lifted marriage from the grimy pit of human self-interest and eloquently offered God’s universal call to husbands and wives and their children. The surprise for us comes from their suggestion that, if Jesus is challenging men and women to embrace this high calling, it would be better for them NOT to marry than to marry and risk becoming an adulterer. Wow??

The Pharisees wanted to provide a way to exonerate hard hearted husbands. By their interpretation of Deuteronomy 4 at the exclusion of Genesis 2, such men would maintain institutional righteousness. The disciples’ solution to the problem was to stay single. It seems like this is a race to the bottom. Instead of reacting to the paucity of this response as I have done,  Jesus gave them a teaching about the reasons why people stay single. Remember this is a culture where marriage is so important that it is seen to be the holy way to live and singleness is almost regarded as a sin or as a judgment of God.

Jesus shifts the focus from the contemporary ‘married-holy vs. unmarried-unholy’ ideas to a different level. He basically says that there are three kinds of unmarried people. There are those whose personality type cause them to feel complete without needing to be married. I think we would refer to these people as genuinely celibate. They don’t want to be married. They have an approach to life that doesn’t presume marriage and they get on with life and don’t succumb to the otherwise pressure of their parents and the community to find them a husband or wife. There is a second group of unmarried people who DO want to be married. In their case, adverse human circumstances leave them unfulfilled. They might have been jilted or perceived to be unattractive. Perhaps family circumstances or isolation prevented their desire from being fulfilled. The fact that they end up unmarried is due to the failure of others, not of themselves. This is a sad situation because these precious people will go through life unfulfilled – and the reason will have little to do with them. It will have to do with a society that elevates certain types of persons and denigrates other persons. It creates hurtful peck-orders that rate desirability on some humanly contrived formula rather than seeing people as God sees them – worthy and worthy to be loved. The third group of people are different again. These are people who, likewise, remain unmarried but do so deliberately because of their calling from God. They choose to serve the work of the kingdom of God in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to be married.

In response to the question raised by the disciples, Jesus is plainly telling them that the idea of staying away from marriage just to avoid the possibility of failing is just as much against God’s purpose as it is to treat marriage as a commodity for individual male self-centredness. God has created men and women to marry. That is the overwhelming majority-state of personhood. So most people should marry and they should take up the high calling God has set before married couples. He doesn’t validate the view that treats people who don’t marry as rebellious or disobedient. He simply points to the realities of marriage in an imperfect world. What we need to hear is that marriage is a high calling. It is one relationship in life that is called to reflect the nature of the Godhead – where three Persons are One. In a marriage, the two persons are called to aim for the same oneness.

In Australia at this time, one in three marriages fail. Even so, more people are being married, and marriages are lasting longer before they break up. Divorces have now started to decline. Some sectors of our society seem to gain encouragement from the fact that one out of three fails. Some people think that marriage is an antiquated institution of a bygone era when we didn’t know any better. Jesus would urge us to celebrate and encourage marriage success. He would urge us to provide every form of support for husbands and wives, so they become skilled in the arts of oneness. In this way, their families will be better served. These marriages and families will, of themselves, become a resource for every marriage by modelling commitment, loyalty, selflessness and the sheer joy of lasting covenant love.

Of course, we are facing a different kind of problem. The relationship God invented called marriage is being pirated: pillaged and plundered. The fact that couples of the same sex wanting to call their relationship marriage are not really about equality. It is a different form of attack on something that represents the presence of God on the earth. We are witnessing yet another tragic sociological turning point in history. My own view about same sex relationships (leaving aside the range of transgender issues) is that people should be free to form those relationships. I don’t think they are righteous or right, but I don’t think they should be criminalised either. What I object to is the identity of those relationships. When we think about fruit, we have apples, oranges and bananas. They are all equal in that they are genuinely a fruit, but they are different; equal but distinctive. Imagine an immense social push to have all fruit called apples so that oranges and bananas would not feel discriminated against. It would be crazy for a lot of reasons. Different does not presume inequality. It is the same with relationships. In a society where freedom of choice is a God given value, we are being told that a same-sex relationship should be called by the same name as a heterosexual relationship. This is called equality. They are both relationships. They may be recognised as equal regarding them being based on a loving commitment. That commitment deserves a just set of legal protections and entitlements. It doesn’t make them the same. They will always be different and distinctive no matter what legislation is introduced. This is a beat up on what God has ordained. He created them male and female. He created a man to become the husband of a woman in a relationship that would become more united the longer it continued. He created a woman to become a wife to a husband and he called this covenant bond to be the environment for procreating and nurturing children. We mess with this to our individual and common peril. We need to hear and heed Jesus’ words, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning…”  We are messing with the divine order in creation.


  1. I would understand how deep and close the idea of marriage is in the loving plan of God for his world.
  2. I would do everything I could to see that my own marriage was pointed toward “the two becoming one.”
  3. In this cause, I would seek to become the world expert in knowing and understanding everything that is sacred about my wife. With that understanding, I would want to become her number one supporter in achieving everything God wanted her to do. I would offer myself to help make that happen.
  4. I would also make sure I did what I could to allow her to understand what is sacred about me so that she would have the resources to support and participate with me.
  5. We would use every challenge and approach every obstacle as an opportunity to gain greater understanding of what it meant to experience what Jesus said, “…and the two shall become one, so they are no longer two but one flesh.”
  6. I would support and celebrate marriage and seek to support and strengthen all of the marriages in my spheres. I would try to rescue marriages that were struggling and try to find the best way for them to assume a posture that embraced what God has said about marriage.
  7. I would honour and defend the honour of marriage against all attempts to denigrate it either directly or indirectly by individuals and groups within our society. I would seek to do this in a reasoned and loving way, not in a judgmental way.


Jesus turned yet another devious plot into an opportunity to offer people the best of the kingdom of God. He accomplished this by refusing to be intimidated or become defensive of his position when they were clearly trying to entrap and accuse him. He didn’t buy into their selective verse-picking approach to the idea that there was a righteous way for hard hearted husbands to get rid of their wives. He pointed them to the heart of God for marriage and called on them to rise to the challenge. This is by far the fullest and clearest teaching we have about marriage from Jesus. It could have been a fruitless battle of opinions, but instead, it was an eloquent proclamation of God’s view of marriage. By choosing to exercise this ministry in this way to the Pharisees and the others who were gathered, Jesus gave something special to the whole of humanity. We can learn to do the same. Instead of defending a point of debate we should just figure out how to proclaim the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ gospel was about marriage. It shifted the focus from what to do when a marriage fails to what we can do to make sure it succeeds. In this we have a choice and it is a gospel choice. When we heed Jesus call to oneness, we will be better equipped to deal with the many issues that challenge our marriages – from the tiny day to day ones to the once-in-a-lifetime ones. Like all things, marriage is not made in heaven. It was designed in heaven but needs to be worked out on the earth. It is not about getting lucky in finding the totally comparable man or woman. It is about two very different people being joined by God. It is about finding someone that we love without reason or question and making that relationship the most compatible. It is an exciting and important challenge for all of us in our day. At the bottom of this issue lies the challenge to learn twenty-four-seven unselfishness. Marriage gives us the very best of reasons usual of someone else before ourselves. If we rise to that challenge, our marriage becomes a redemptive force like no other and everyone benefits from its success.

[1]                 Matthew for Everyone, N.T. Wright p.40

INDULGENCES – a twenty-first century epidemic


Five hundred years after the Reformation, we need to be delivered yet again from the curse of indulgences.



It is a well-known fact of history that when Luther sparked a revolt among the churches of Europe one of the catalytic issues was the sale of indulgences. At that time, an emissary from Pope Leo X was sent to Germany to extract payment from people so that their dead relatives could be freed from the purgings of Purgatory. He even developed little songs to be sung along with his often-hyper-dramatic portrayal of how the rellies were suffering: “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs.”  Payment of money instead of going to jail was a well-established practice in the legal systems of Europe at the time, so the church borrowed the idea as an alternative form of fundraising. The funds themselves were almost always used to pay for extravagant building projects or lifestyles for the bishops. Since Leo himself was a member of the affluent Medici family, he was good at spending money on himself.

If the sixteenth-century church had problems with indulgences, the twenty-first-century church also has problems with indulgences – more specifically, self-indulgences  Once again, it is an issue for the church because it has liberally borrowed values from the wider culture. This time it is not coming from the top down. It is coming from the bottom up. This time it is not about securing some comfort for the hereafter, but has everything to do with the here and now. The twenty-first century western version is not about indulgences, plural but indulgence itself – self-indulgence.

It seems to me that self-indulgence has become the highest priority for most people I know in the community and many people I know in the church. The matter of following Jesus is no longer about denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus. It has become exactly the reverse: self-centred; self-preserving and self-determining. The question is, what kind of reformation do we need to deal with this form of indulgence? I’m not sure that if I go and nail up a list of complaints on the door of our church facility in Belconnen the ripples will be felt either in the lavish home entertainment rooms of people’s houses or the equally lavish resorts at Phuket.

The epidemic of self-indulgence in our part of the world has immediate and telling outcomes for all kinds of churches, whether large or small:

  • people are less willing to take responsibility for anything;
  • people are less willing to make long-term commitments;
  • the average church attendance of supposedly committed has dropped to 1.6 times per month;
  • parents are building their lifestyles around indulging their children rather than modelling loving self-sacrifice for Jesus and the kingdom;
  • using US based statistics supposedly committed Christians watch more than three hours of TV per day but have little time for reading the Bible or praying;
  • people are less and less accustomed to reading or conversing at depth – in a “twitter-sized” world we learn that even though the limit is 120 characters, most people don’t like reading more than 40.

My (possibly overgeneralised) observation is that the reasons for these trends are not just generational culture per se. We are not looking at something different, but something less. I am confident that the forces driving the change have much more to do with self-indulgence than with godly passion. That is, the shaping force comes from the kingdom of this world rather than the kingdom of God. If that is true, we need to push back against the trend consciously and develop lifestyle habits and traits that are the result of Holy Spirit transformation, not contemporary cultural accommodation.



  1. Go and read the Bible. Find something there that is inside the Bible but outside your current experience. Pursue God and fellow believers until this has become part of your life experience rather than something you read about. When you have done one of these, go and look for another one.
  2. Get connected to a Christian group or ministry who do kingdom advancing things that are way beyond your comfort zone. Make a commitment to hang out with them for at least three months, or as long as it takes to gain a genuine understanding of what they are doing and how they are doing it. When you have accomplished that, find some other people around you who will do something similar in your own church or sphere.
  3. Instead of going on a cruise or to a resort somewhere for a (self-indulgent) holiday, find a group who are responding to some form of direct human need and offer to spend your holiday time serving with them.
  4. Instead of reading, watching or listening to your usual restricted range of inspirational leaders (podcasts, video streaming, etc.). Talk with two or three fellow believers in your world whose commitment to Jesus you admire. Ask them who they listen to/what they are reading. Make a point of listening or watching what they have found helpful and seeing how it might relate to your world.
  5. Make a list of five well-known Christian leaders you respect. Look up their websites and search carefully until you discover what they are reading and who they are hanging out with. Even if you have to write four or five emails that they don’t answer – hang in there till you make enough contact to get your information and then spend time reading, listening and watching the stuff that tells you where they get what they have.
  6. Plan in advance to spend a day – or as much of a day as you can – in some place where you can pray, worship, read and reflect on the values that shape your life. Make a list of the things that you spend 80% of your time on in an average week. Ask Jesus to comment on what changes need to be made for you to become the person He has created you to be and to fulfil the purpose he has created, sustained, redeemed and empowered you for. Ask him specifically to show you areas where you are caught up with sterile self-indulgence and then listen hard enough and long enough.
  7. Decide to go on a TV/video streaming fast for a week or even two weeks. Plan in advance what you will do with the time that is available to you. Intend to spend at least a portion of that time doing something that meets the needs of someone else – if you can, outside of your immediate domestic sphere.
  8. When you have a day of a weekend free from other commitments, ask your spouse or someone close to you what might be something special they would like to do – or find out by other means what they love doing. Suggest that you would like to spend the day doing that with them. As you spend that day together, make sure you observe, ask questions and gain an understanding of why they like doing it.
  9. Who is the person in your world who represents the “least?” (cp. Jesus in Matthew 25, i.e. the least in your family, in your workplace, your neighbourhood or a community group. This will be the person who is furthest from the insider club in the group; the misfit; the difficult personality; the most arrogant or the one you would most naturally avoid). Decide that you are going to spend a month trying to reach out to them and get to know them well enough to be a blessing to them.
  10. Begin to learn and practice the principle outlined by Paul in Philippians 2:1-18. Make a list of the things that are described there as a way of developing a Jesus-like attitude to the people in your normal world. Make a deliberate attempt to consciously DO one and then two and then three of them. Explain to one or two trusted fellow believers what you are doing so that you can report your progress to them and ask them to pray for you and help you. Set a specific period for this experiment and measure your progress. See if you can make this to become a core part of your lifestyle.