The Temptation of Jesus with Gary Deddo
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing you insights from scripture, found in the Revised Common Lectionary, and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view.
I’m your host Anthony Mullins, and it is my joy and delight to welcome this month’s guests, Dr. Gary Deddo. Gary is the former president of Grace Communion Seminary because of his recent retirement. Congratulations, my friend! And he has a PhD from the University of Aberdeen. He worked for twenty years in campus ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and later as senior editor with InterVarsity Press. Gary continues to teach courses in theology for Grace Communion Seminary. And I recently completed his course on the Christology of TF Torrance, which was definitely enlightening and hard work, but it was really, really good work. Gary, thank you for joining us today and welcome to the podcast.
And for those who may not know you in our listening audience, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your family, and what’s going on in your neck of the woods?
Gary: Anthony, thanks for that introduction. I came to GCI twelve years ago through Joe Tkach, who was then the President, and he invited me to start speaking and then I began teaching for the seminary.
So, it’s been a short journey with GCI compared to so many others, but it’s been a joy and a privilege. And yes, I have recently retired from being the president, but will continue to serve by teaching for the seminary, also helping out on the GCI side on a project-by-project design.
The GCI headquarters actually jumped over me. I’ve been living in the Midwest here outside of Chicago the whole time, but we started out in Glendora and then the headquarters jumped (from Glendora, California) over me all the way to Charlotte, North Carolina. And I stayed here.
I have three grown children. And all three are now married. The last one, just this last summer. We now have six grandchildren, four with my oldest daughter and two with my son, who’s in the middle. We do a bit of traveling to see the grandkids or they travel here. But it’s been great to see them online too. We do a lot of that back and forth to stay in touch.
What’s ahead for me is working part-time for GCI and continuing to teach. But other than that, I’m open and looking for the Lord’s leading as to how to use my time now in my retirement.
Anthony: Well, as a fellow grandpa to another grandpa, this is a great season of life and congratulations on your grandchildren.
Gary, as you reflect on your experience and instructing students in theology, I’m curious as we get started, what would you say is the primary, most important theological instructions that you’ve given to your students and could give to our listening audience?
Gary: Well, anybody who knows me, won’t be surprised at my answer because you probably heard it about thirty-five times, if not more. And that is, the whole of scripture is meant to answer and ask one question.
And that is, who is God? That’s the primary and central question of life, not just theological. Scripture is meant to answer who is God. And then out of that, we come to see who we are in relationship to God. And of course, the primary answer to that question is Jesus Christ himself. He is God’s answer that tells us who God is and how God is related to us, and we are related to God. So, all of scripture ought to be understood with that question and the Bible’s answer to that question: of course, Jesus. It’s not a theologian’s point of view that makes that the central question – Jesus himself makes himself the central question all throughout the New Testament. And in the center of the Gospel of Mark, he asked the very pointed question at the center of his ministry, who do others say that I am? And then he turns to the disciples and says, who do you say that I am? All turns on that question and the answer that Jesus Christ himself is God’s, as it were, final answer to that.
In meeting with students years ago, I would often have seekers ask the question after reading the New Testament and they would ask me, “Gary, I don’t really get this. It seems to me that as we’re reading these passages in the New Testament, Jesus ends up talking an awful lot about himself.”
And I’d have to answer, “Exactly. That’s right.” And of course, the rest of the New Testament is a witness to him. So, it’s not this kind of “the who question and the who answer” is not just something fancy and made up by somebody. It is the question all the way through all of scripture. That’s the first thing.
And the second thing is – as we discover who the God revealed in Jesus Christ is – would be that God is not a creature. God is not a created being. And therefore, this God who’s revealed himself in scripture cannot be understood in human terms.
We can’t project our image of how human things work, especially this fallen world, and project it on God. In other words, we can’t understand God in terms of ourselves as we are apart from God. And this is a common mistake. God is the incomparable one. And John McKenna, who used to teach before he passed away for GCS and GCI, always said, “This is the great I am. He can only be compared to himself.”
In knowing God, then we see in God’s own terms. God defines himself by himself and in himself and in person, in the person of Christ. And on that basis, then we understand who God is, and then see ourselves as reflections of that. But a mistake is to think that God is somewhat just like us, but bigger.
No, God is not a creature. So, any kinds of answers or questions that try to comprehend God in terms of human terms, they make a mistake and an error. Avoiding that would be the second thing, I’d have to say, the second biggest lesson to be learned and to be remembered all the time, studying scripture, preaching, teaching, and even as it were, counseling ourselves, thinking ourselves.
Anthony: I appreciated what you said about the whole of scripture is asking the question, who is this God. And that really does change the dynamic of the way that we read even the Old Testament, as Jesus Christ being the hermeneutic.
And that leads me to my next question about scripture and the way we think about God. You know, this podcast seeks to be Christocentric, Christ-centered, and Trinitarian in its perspective for preachers and teachers and Bible students who make up the majority of our listening audience. It’s a big question, but what does it really mean to be Christ-centered and Trinitarian in preaching and teaching?
Gary: Yes. Well, you’ve already touched on it, but God himself came in person to tell us and show us who he really is. So, the prophets came first, and they told us about who God is, and God prepared the way through those prophets. But finally, God himself came himself, in person, in flesh and blood, in time and space to tell us and show us who he is himself.
The easiest way to say that is, in Jesus Christ we have the self-revelation of God. God himself explaining himself in terms of himself by himself to us. So, we’re not projecting ourselves on God. God has made himself known in Jesus Christ personally, directly in our time and in our space and in ways in which, by the Holy Spirit, we can begin to grasp the nature, and the character, the purpose of God from beginning of time to the end of time.
This is God’s only self-revelation. The image that I give here is: if the Old Testament prophets, as it were, painted portraits, paintings of God. Right? And then we have these portraits, let’s say in a museum with portraits of God and you go in there and you find the portrait of Amos and you find the portrait of Jeremiah and you find the portrait of Moses (the [first] five books of the Old Testament.)
And you find these paintings. Then you’re in the room and you’re trying to think out, you look at this painting, and you look at that painting, and you look at the other painting. And then you say, “Okay. I’m getting an idea of who God is by looking at this painting, that painting, this book of the Old Testament, that book of the Old Testament.”
And yeah, you’d have some clues. Absolutely. God sent those prophets who are faithful. You’d have some clues putting them together. But one of the clues is look and wait for God to do something unique, to make himself clear, to make himself known. Well, Jesus then is the one who walks into the room.
He walks into the room himself in time and space and flesh and blood. And now if you’re in the room and he’s in the room with you, you’re in a different situation, aren’t you? So, you can say two things at that point. You can look at all the portraits and then look at this Jesus who’s in the room with you now and say, “You know, Jesus given all of what I thought about these portraits, you really need to change your face.”
Or you could conclude – you look at him, you behold him in person in time and space and flesh and blood, even with human words and human actions, as a whole – and then you can realize, “Oh my goodness! Now I see a bit reflected in each of these portraits and some of what I thought was wrong. And some of what I thought was right and closer, but even now I need to gaze on your face so that I might even appreciate more and more what was reflected in each of these independent portraits, because you’re the whole thing. You’re the real thing in person.”
And that’s exactly the crisis that Jesus brought about when he showed up in the room. Are they going to interpret Jesus in terms of their preunderstandings of him, even on the basis of the Old Testament prophets, if they got that right, even half right?
Or will they let Jesus himself, as he is in the wholeness of his person, all that he said, all that he did, all that he promised – will they let that then guide all their understanding of all of scripture, including what his apostles [taught], the ones he appointed as his personal authoritative spokespersons, his representatives, the apostles? Will we understand all of scripture then in terms of who Jesus Christ is and revealed himself to be as we find him in scripture?
That’s what we mean by Christ-centered and the word you use, the more technical word, which is proper, is he is the interpretive key, the hermeneutic.
Another example I use is if the whole of scripture is a who-done-it mystery novel, and when you read the novel the first time like that (and probably many of you have) you read through the whole thing. If it’s a good novel, there are all kinds of clues along the way. And you’re trying to pick them up and you’re trying to figure ahead of the reveal at the end, who did it. Then you finally find out who did it,having read the whole thing.
Now, what happens if you go back and read that mystery novel once again? You know who did it, but what happens is when you go through it the second time, or the third time or the fourth time, you realize, “Oh, that was the clue! That’s what was there. That’s why the author put that in there. That’s what it’s about,” because you see how it points ahead.
And so, it creates a hermeneutical circle that’s proper, not improper, where you interpret everything around the center because we know who-done-it. And now we read all scripture, not as if we didn’t [know.] We don’t become a hypothetical unbeliever when we read the scripture again, to see if we can prove it all over again on the basis of a few verses.
No, we know who did it. That again is being Christ-centered, the interpretive key of the entire story. So that’s the Christ-centered part.
There is also the Trinitarian part. I guess I can say a little bit about that. Oh, I can see if I can say just a little bit about it.
Anthony: Go for it!
Gary: When we meet Jesus in person, what we find, he then gives us the final and definitive understanding of the Father. He directs us to the Father, to the heart of the Father who remains invisible. The Father is not incarnate. Only the Son is incarnate, but the Son knows the Father from all eternity. He gives the final interpretation, the final understanding of the Father.
He comes with insider knowledge, being a member from eternity, who is now incarnate as well. He has insider knowledge and sorts it all out for us, being the perfect image of the Father. So, he then takes us to the Father, the one in time and space and flesh and blood in person. He takes us to the Father, but more than that, he also takes us and sends us the Holy Spirit.
He introduces us and gives us the normative understanding, that cannot be surpassed, as to who the Holy Spirit is. And in a matter of fact, he makes clear then that God is actually the Trinity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we’ve come to define that as three persons in the one being – not three beings, not one person – but three persons in the one being of God, in a way that we can’t understand because God’s not a creature. It’s not like us in any way, but the only reason we know God is for sure – God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is because Jesus himself tells us.
That’s how we know; he tells us. And he shows us in his actions, the nature and character of God, so to follow Jesus is to become Trinitarian. Otherwise, if you deny what he says about his relationship to the Father and who the Father is, when we deny his relationship to the Holy Spirit and who the Holy Spirit is, we are not following Jesus.
He takes us to the Father and he sends us the Holy Spirit, and he describes to us then what we cannot know in any other way, except we are told by someone who knows. He is the one who knows the Father and knows the Holy Spirit from all eternity and has come in our time and space then to finally sort that all out, and tell us, “So then go into all the world and baptize them in the name, the one name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 28:19]
To be a follower of Jesus necessarily means being Trinitarian in that way. Otherwise, we’re not following him and what he has told us, we’re not believing in all of what he’s told us and all of who he is.
These words, Trinitarian and Christocentric, or Christ-centered are not prescriptive. They’re descriptive. You say, okay, so who are we? Well, descriptively, we ended up being those who believe God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one being in three persons. And we interpret all of who God is, what God is doing, and all of scripture in terms of who is revealed, who God is revealed to be, in Jesus Christ.
These are descriptive; they’re after the fact. We say, yes, we’re Trinitarian. We’re Christ-centered. That’s who we are descriptively, but ultimately, we’re the ones who worship God through the Son and in the Holy Spirit, according to scripture. That’s who we are.
Well, maybe that’s enough.
Anthony: Well, it’s a lot to consider. And what I hear you saying, Gary, is let’s continue to look to the unique Son of God, the one who reveals who Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is, Jesus Christ, the living Word.
And let’s go find him in the written word now, shall we? Let’s go look at the Bible passages for this month.
We’re going to unpack four different texts. They start in Luke 4:1 – 13, “The temptation of Jesus,” for the first Sunday of Lent. That’s March the 6th. Then Luke 13:31 – 35, “Listen,” for the second Sunday of Lent, March 13th. Luke 13:1-9, “Repent or perish,” third Sunday of Lent on March the 20th. And then finally, Luke chapter 15:1-3 and 11b – 32, “Sinners coming near,” on the fourth Sunday of Lent March 27.
Let me read the first pericope, which is Luke 4:1 – 13. It comes from the NRSV. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for March the 6th.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”
Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”
Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’”
Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
Gary, if you were preaching this passage, what would have your time and attention and focus?
Gary: Well, you can guess from this, we’re going to first learn something about who Jesus is. The context is important here; this comes after Jesus is baptized. And he is baptized uniquely now with the Holy Spirit so that people watching and witnessing, see that this is the one filled with the Holy Spirit of God, one in human form, who has the Holy Spirit now for us, as he is filled with the Holy Spirit at this point in a new way. We have to say, Jesus had the Holy Spirit, as it were, from all eternity, but now he has the Holy Spirit in a unique way for us and for his public ministry. So, his public ministry starts here, but what’s the first thing that happens then in his public ministry?
It shows us that his primary work is to deal with the very source of evil in our created world. This is the real battle. This is the real center. This is the real task. It is to overcome evil and its primary effect, which is death, destruction. This is where the real battle goes on. And of course, we see this throughout his ministry, that he’s dealing with the demonic. And I think sometimes we don’t really pay much attention to that, but this is the central battle, remembering that context.
And of course, he’s not doing it for himself. Everything he does in his incarnate life is for us and our salvation. He does nothing for himself; it’s for us. And he does it in our flesh, in our place, and on our behalf.
So, this is what he’s doing in dealing with the tempter himself. So I’d have to say that’s where we need to start, is to realize the context and what this shows us about who Jesus is, why he came, and where the real battle is.
Anthony: That’s good. And as we focus on Jesus, I want to ask you, what is he ultimately being tempted to do or not to do?
And what does it have to teach us?
Gary: Right. Well, if you look at the temptations and put them all together, instead of separating them up right away, we see that the evil one is attempting to break his trust and worship relationship with the Father in the Spirit. Right? This is what he’s trying to do is to break that relationship, to destroy it, to ruin it.
And how does he do it? The evil one tempts him to disbelieve in his Father and in the Holy Spirit, working in him, to distrust. And how does he do that? By lying about the situation. He is a liar and a deceiver and attempting to deceive and lie to Jesus in order to break that trust relationship that he has with the Father in the Holy Spirit. That’s his main point of destruction.
It’s not just pain or suffering or things like that. It is actually to destroy the relationship between Jesus and God. And he knows that this is the central battle himself. He knows who his enemy is. And so, he attempts to destroy that. Furthermore, notice the nature of the deceptions here, “If you are,” and then he [the tempter] says, “then you’ll do this or that or the other, if you are the Son of God.”
Now there is a little point of truth there. Is Jesus the Son of God? Yes, he is. Does Jesus already know that? Yes, he does. But see the if? “If, if, if you are then you’ll do this,” in other words, don’t you have to do something or other to prove it, to demonstrate it? You see, rather than Jesus is resting in it, it needs no proof. It needs no demonstration.
It is brute real fact, reality. The trust relationship is there. It is freely given. It doesn’t need to be proved. It doesn’t need to be demonstrated. It is the rock bottom truth. But each one tempts him to say, “Yeah, there is a truth there, but you have to prove it, don’t you? At least prove it to yourself,” which of course is impossible.
And if Jesus were to go ahead and do that, of course that means, “Yeah, rather than trusting in the love of the Father and the presence of the Spirit, I need additional proof.” Well, that shows unbelief, that shows distrust: I need something else to confirm it that would be as great or greater than the actual love and relationship that he actually has.
And see here the tempter says, “Now here’s the criteria I want you to use. Here’s how you set up this test.” So what could happen that would shift Jesus’ trust over to this criterion and get him to be at least a hypothetical unbeliever for a while? Saying, “Okay, let’s say I’m not the Son of God now what’s that test, Satan. What’s that test? Oh, there’s a criterion. My ability to turn a stone into bread. Okay. Yeah. If I pass that test, if I pass that test, then I can go back and trust in that relationship with the Father.”
But if it doesn’t happen, so do you see the subtlety here? And of course, this is the same – Satan has no other “MO,” mode of operation – it’s always the same towards us, all those who belong to Christ. It’s the same thing to get us to test and to prove, to become hypothetical unbelievers, and then act out of that to see if we can get back to where we are. Well, Jesus would have absolutely none of that. He would not be tested, especially under the criteria that the devil gives him.
It is a reality that he trusts in fully and completely, so that we too might join him in that trust and confidence. He’s doing this for us. He’s winning the battle for us, not for himself. But for us, he is defeating the evil one, beginning to defeat the evil one right here, right there, right at the beginning and that follows right through his whole ministry, leading up to the cross.
So Jesus was not fooled at all. And he knows that test actually is the test that leads to unbelief and to a disconnect from God. What we see going on is really how evil works.
Anthony: Yeah, it seems to me as I was listening to you, it just reminds me of how everything truly hinges on the love relationship between Father and Son in the communion of the Holy Spirit. And thanks be to God that Jesus rested in who he was!
As I look at this passage, Gary, it looks like the Holy Spirit intentionally led Jesus into the wilderness. And we know this was a unique leading for a specific purpose, but I’m just curious, do you think the Spirit sometimes leads us into the wilderness? And if so, what instruction and encouragement can we take from this passage?
Gary: Well, one thing I’d have to say is we’re always in the wilderness. This is why it is a wilderness experience.
Jesus knows that and prays that in John 17, “Father, I don’t pray that you take them out of the world, but that you sanctify them in the world.” That process of sanctification, sharing in Christ’s sanctification by the same Holy Spirit that he had for us and then sent to us upon his Ascension, is to enable us to go through this wilderness experience.
What the rest of the New Testament calls, the present dark age or the evil generation, this is where we are all the time. But now we too have that same Spirit as a down payment. We don’t have it in fullness even, but we do have it as a down payment or as an inheritance, or there is a ceiling that’s yet to be opened.
We, being joined to Jesus as we trust in the Holy Spirit and it illuminates the word for us so that we become those who believe, we are in the wilderness for the sake to serve this risen Jesus, to be witnesses to him in this present darkness, in this evil age. And we have the same provision then of sharing in Jesus’ ongoing ministry in this wilderness time.
So yes, there’s always the potential to be tempted in one of these ways. We can talk about the three different ways shown here. But yes, we’re always open to the potential to being distrusting, to have something or someone, something come into our view or in our lives where we say, “Well, maybe I can’t trust God. Maybe I should put him on test.”
Or maybe God is putting me on test. That’s the other thing, the evil one wants us to think that God has put us on test. And so, we have to prove it and prove it to ourselves. And all by whatever our obedience, or even by our degree of how much faith we have, and try to measure it quantitatively, something like that.
And so yes, we are still in the wilderness, but with the provision of God’s word, with his full revelation in Jesus Christ, according to his word and with the Holy Spirit, actually working in our lives. And along the way, the Lord can indeed provide us with other fellow travelers who realize we’re in the same battle, we’re in the same wilderness with them in which there will be temptations.
But these are preparations. As Jesus in the wilderness here, is a preparation for his entire ministry, right? Just like Israel was prepared in the wilderness as well. There’s a parallel here to Israel’s experience and Jesus’ experience, capping that off. Now yes, we are in the wilderness subject to temptation, but there is provision for us.
So even though we’re tempted, and we’re not guilty when we’re tempted, but we are to use the provision God gives us to resist that temptation, to remember the word of God and put our trust in him, as trust in his faithfulness and faith and his faithfulness to preserve us. And if we fall, to renew us and restore us, to go back as often as we need to, because (well, we’ll get to that later) he’ll receive us back every time we come back to him. He has made full provision for us in this wilderness.
Anthony: Hallelujah, praise God that as we walk through the wilderness, we have the gift of grace, of our Lord’s presence with us. And we can see in him, even here, the overcoming of the evil one, and we know that full defeat happens in his death, resurrection, and ascension. Hallelujah, praise God!
Our next pericope is Luke 13:31 – 35. It comes from the NRSV. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for March 13th. Gary, would you read it for us please?
Gary: Yes, it’d be happy to.
At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”
He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Anthony: Gary, what stands out to you from this passage?
Gary: Well, it’s a little bit complicated; again, the context is important. We have these, Pharisees coming to them. And I think it’s another kind of test where Jesus turns the table. But again, we’re primarily to learn about him, who he is, and what he’s up to.
In order to do that, in order to receive his word, you have to let him turn the tables and set the terms. The Pharisees tried to set the terms of the discussion, but Jesus has none of that. He is Lord. He will not have them lorded over them because they are not lords. And so, he turns the whole thing around on them to get them to question, to ask the question who is this, then of him, rather than them questioning him and trying to get on his good side.
Anthony: Taking this text at face value, it seems like the Pharisees are actually trying to protect Jesus instead of the normal course of action. Based on what you just said, I’m curious, what’s really going on here?
Gary: Well, we don’t really know exactly. All right. So when you have Pharisees coming, we know that some Pharisees in the end, ended up believing, not a small number, but certainly not a huge number of them but it might be a mixed multitude.
Some may have been more, “Well, let’s help Jesus out.” And others, as you know, “Let’s see if we can get on his good side and appear as if we’re on his side, but we’re not really.” So, we don’t know, but Jesus doesn’t even bother to figure that out exactly. And we don’t need to either.
And so, where they start, “Get away from here for Herod wants to kill you.” And of course, Herod was viewed as the opposition to the Pharisees. Herod was more aligned with the Sadducees. So many of them, some of them who came to him may have had a secondary agenda, a hidden agenda. They’re trying to get him on their side against Herod. We don’t really know.
But Jesus – notice, as usual, he doesn’t answer their question because it’s not the right question. See, Jesus was always saying, “Here’s the right question. You’re asking the wrong question. I’m here to tell you what the right question is. I’m here to be the right question. I’m the one you need to be asking about here and not protecting.”
Jesus doesn’t need their protection. Right? So notice they come to him and recommend what he does: get away from here. And Jesus said to them, “Go and tell that Fox for me.” You see who’s in charge here.
So Jesus then directs them: go and tell that Fox for me. He doesn’t even use the strongest language, but he tips his hand that trusting that Herod would be the wrong thing to do. Yeah, that’s right. But see, it’s a small thing for Jesus. You think he knows that? He doesn’t need to be told.
Now notice next, he starts talking about himself. “Listen here. Listen to me. Don’t tell me, listen to me. Are you going to?” Now some of the Pharisees may have, and some of them probably didn’t.
“Listen, I am casting out demons. So, what does that tell you about me and performing cures today and tomorrow? Not just one-offs here and there. I am the one who brings healing. Who does that come from? What does that tell you about my relationship with the God that you claim to know? That should tell you something. Does it?”
You see what he’s telling them, raises the question. It forces them to deal with (well, not forces them) it invites them strongly. It confronts them with the question: who am I?
And then it seems to me, this third phrase here is a bit of a parable. “And on the third day, I finished my work.” Right. And they’re going to ask, “The third day of what? When is that going to happen?”
I think he sets that out there for those who are really honest seekers of the Pharisees. They will wonder about that, maybe some of them, maybe Nicodemus, will come to him and ask him more about that third day thing. But of course, on the actual third day after he’s crucified, maybe some of them, he planted a seed in their hearts and in their minds, “On that third day, I finished my work.” And they may reflect and be given another opportunity by the Holy Spirit to see who Jesus is and put their trust in him as the Son of God, who is the Savior of the world. That’s who he is, who he’s related to, and why he’s come.
Well, he does go on here. I think that’s what’s happening between him and the Pharisees. He’s making himself the issue, turning the tables on them, and exercising his authority in this parabolic way to get them to ask the right question and to pay attention to him.
Anthony: Well, hopefully I asked the right question here about the Pharisees.
We read about our Lord Jesus’ heart for Jerusalem. What can we take away from that?
Gary: Right. So, verse 34, he goes on and now, we hear his thoughts out loud, right? This, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, in that repeated way, shows this kind of longing and agony, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. See, he’s already anticipating what’s happening. (Sorry. This is Luke 13.)
So, this is on in his ministry compared to the first pericope we read, which is at the beginning. He knows what’s happening here and how people are responding, especially the leadership, and so, he’s aware of that. But then he tells us more, not only that he’s aware of the danger that is before him, but yes, he tells us of his heart.
I desire to gather your children together. That is those who belong to Jerusalem. And of course, and its temple, those who worship the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem and his very presence is represented there in the holy of Holies, in the temple. Oh, how often I have desired to gather your children together (and here a very touching metaphor) as a hen gathers her brood under her wings. And then the agony, and you were not willing (verse 34b.)
We see right into the heart of Jesus, and therefore into the heart of the Father and the heart of the Spirit, desiring to gather and yet seeing the resistance to him. We see right into his heart, but they are rejecting, they are resisting God’s grace in person. In person! And of course, others of Jesus’ parables say the same thing, right?
When the owner of the field comes and not the servants and the slaves, and they kill the Son, not the servants. So many of them point in the same direction as this. But yes, this shows us the heart of the Father, the heart of the Son, the heart of the Spirit.
Anthony: Yeah. And as we look at the heart of the triune God, we like what we see so very much.
Okay. Let’s transition to our next text, which is Luke13:1 – 9, which comes from the NRSV. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for March the 20th.
At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
All right, Gary, unless you repent, you will all perish. There seems to be much to unpack here theologically. What should preachers preach?
Gary: Well, again reading any section in context, and of course, ultimately the context is the whole book of Luke, for instance, here and also the entire gospels and then the New Testament really. So, the context here is we see people posing a question to Jesus.
But they don’t know and they are concerned about who this Jesus is, and they may very well also have an ultimate alternative motive, a hidden motive, or be entertaining unrecognized and false beliefs or assumptions. They’re going to come and tell Jesus something: the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with sacrifices.
The Galileans may be actually a zealot type group that’s started a riot or an insurrection and then how Pilate to dealt with them. All right, but you see Jesus again, doesn’t answer their question directly. He asks them. See, he’s trying to get them to deal with him and who God really is.
So, he has to stop them. And that’s why he asked them a question: “Do you think that these Galileans suffered in this way because they were worse sinners than the all the other Galileans? No, I tell you.” (verse 2-3b)
You see, they’re talking about other people. “What about those people? Jesus. What about those people? What about those people? Aren’t they worse?”
And of course, how they’re thinking is some deserve worse treatment than others. “Don’t they? How are you going to answer that?”
It’s at least their assumption, if not some kind of ulterior motive going on here and maybe in the group, some present, had both, but Jesus is not interested in it.
He’s not going to make a judgment. He’s got the more fundamental concern, and you see, they’re not thinking about their own repentance. They’re avoiding that question. “Did they get what they deserve?” That’s what they’re talking about.
Jesus is saying, “The issue is you guys. Are you willing to repent? Whether you think you’re a worse sinner or not, that’s the issue. Unless you, yourselves repent and recognize your total need for the total grace of God, completely undeservable. So, are you asking me this question to avoid your needing to repent and receive God’s forgiveness?”
A lot of the game at the time was what God wants you to do primarily is to avoid the need to receive his forgiveness. So, if you were a perfect person, you would have absolutely no need to repent or to receive forgiveness.
That’s what they think the game is. That isn’t the game! The game is to be in right relationship and to receive forgiveness whenever you need it, because it’s there for you, not to see how minimally you can do it. And so that you can say you’re more righteous than another. “I don’t need to repent as much as somebody else.”
It’s not a comparison game. And I think that’s the game they’re playing, and they want to see where Jesus lines up in the comparison game of who needs to repent and who doesn’t need to repent, who needs more or who needs less.
And he’s giving them a warning: If you’re attempting to avoid the need of repentance, you are in real danger. This is a warning. You will perish just as they did. In other words, yeah, they should perish; someone should perish. He’s saying, be concerned about yourselves first because God calls all to repent, all to receive his forgiveness. Whether you’re a worst offender or a less worse offender, it doesn’t make any difference.
We all need the grace of God, total grace for total forgiveness. That’s what we need. And he does give them: this is a warning. It’s not what he wants. Right? Here, what I’m always interested in is why so often our first reaction is to hear a warning as if it’s a prediction and something God wants.
Whereas, even in a human situation, which is not perfect by any means, but when we warn somebody strongly, is that because we don’t care about them, and we want them to experience the negative consequence we’re warning them about? Or is it because we want them to avoid it?
So, the strength of Jesus’ warnings are exactly proportional to his love for them. Exactly proportional. They’re just as strong in both directions. Someone who won’t warn another doesn’t care; he would just say nothing. So, this is a strict warning about what is apparently a real possibility if they refuse to repent and they say, “Well, I’m not going to repent. They have to. They certainly have to repent more than me. They’re worse sinners than I am. Why should I have to repent? Look, they’re not even repenting.”
You see all that comparison game hiding behind. If they would somehow manage to do that into eternity, and because the whole point is their pride wants to avoid ever having to repent and playing the comparison game in order to avoid it, they will come to hate forgiveness and to avoid it and therefore to avoid God and to repudiate and to hate his charity, to hate his compassion, to hate his goodness, to want nothing to do with it because it’s so beneath you and beneath me. That’s the real danger here that Jesus is giving them a very strong warning.
Yes. You’re concerned about the medicine others will taste. What about the medicine you might taste? That’s the issue here. So again, Jesus turns the tables exactly like he did before and saying, look, it’s about you and God and me. That’s the issue here.
Anthony: So what’s going on with the fig tree? Is it just a bad fruit tree or is there more than meets the eye?
Gary: Yeah, I think he’s moving on a little bit here, following again, a parable, even like the other ones. I think there is a parable at the end of three days, the third day. Here we have another parable, more extensive. The idea here is, why not cut the tree down now because it’s not bearing fruit.
And the comeback is the gardener says, “No, we can wait because there’s other things that could be done dig around it, put manure on it. And if it bears fruit next year, well and good. But if not, then yes, you can cut it down.”
The point here is, well, why do I need to repent now, Jesus? Maybe I’ll think about that later.
You know, aren’t you going to answer this question about the Galileans? Didn’t they deserve it more than others? And Jesus is saying just because there’s a delay in the final judgment – even though as a fig tree, the leaders, especially the leaders of the Jews, are not bearing fruit here – doesn’t mean there won’t be a final day and an end point when God’s judgment does come. And if your hearts are hardened and you’ll never turn away, you won’t receive, if you won’t receive his forgiveness. So don’t presume upon this time now. Yes, God is patient. God is giving you time to repent.
Don’t take advantage of that. Don’t play God. That is a very dangerous thing to do. Your hearts may become so hardened that you will never turn. Today is the day of salvation. I think what Jesus is trying to do is get them to not put off, but to deal with him today, even though yes, God is patient.
But to put God to the test, and say well, I’ll try to get away with it as long as I can. That’s a dangerous game. And so yes, there is a delay. There is a delay in Christ’s return. But we are not to take advantage of God’s kindness, right? And there are other places in the New Testament that talk like this, to not take advantage of it and think we can play God.
I think he’s cutting off that variable, that escape route. I think he senses there was some in the crowd that want to escape the need to repent, to receive the total grace that God has to provide us and that we need.
Anthony: Our fourth and final passage for this month comes from Luke 15: 1 – 3, and 11b-32 from the NRSV.
It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for March the 27th. Gary, would you do us the honors of reading it, please?
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So, he told them this parable:
“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So, he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.
When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So, he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with[b] the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’
So, he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
Anthony: That’s a good one. All that is mine is yours. Tax collectors, sinners coming near to Jesus. Gary, what does this reveal about God in the person and work of Jesus Christ?
Gary: Yes. Well, again, this tells us actually much more about Jesus than anybody else. But it is in parabolic form. And of course, the context is the parable of the lost. The lost sheep, the lost coin. And now we have the lost sons. Actually, this parable is often called the parable of the prodigal son. I really call it the parable of the lost sons. That illuminates a little bit more of the story, it seems to me.
But in this, yes, Jesus is the one who welcomes anybody. We never see him turn anyone away. And often those who respond to him are those who are unexpected, especially in the eyes of the Jewish religious leaders of the day, whether they were Sadducees or the Pharisees and including the scribes as well, because of their understanding of who God is and how they were to relate to God and how God was to relate to them in general.
So, it was surprising. And Jesus did attract a lot of people who were unexpected. And here, tax collectors were those Jewish persons who were working for the Romans and really were, to one degree or another, traders. They were bribed and used by the Romans to collect the tax. Also, here is the idea of sinners, is really the Jewish leaders’ notion of who was a sinner and who wasn’t. So, it’s a technical word here, the sinners, those unexpected.
So yes, Jesus welcomes all. Of course, welcoming children was another aspect. He welcomed all, but sometimes what is forgotten is many of those, he welcomed, rejected him. They didn’t stay with him. Just because they were tax collectors and sinners, didn’t itself mean that they stayed with him. I was recalling as I was reading this over again, the ten lepers that came to Jesus, only one – and he healed all ten – only one returned to give thanks to God. The others walked away. It’s astounding and it’s grievous and it’s sad.
Yes, Jesus welcomed and even healed, but that didn’t necessarily mean that everyone he welcomed stayed with him. In other words, they didn’t receive what he had to give, and so they walked away. They left him even if they were tax collectors and sinners.
There were some Pharisees, as we know, and possibly some Sadducees, who did in the end become believers in Jesus, Nicodemus being probably the one that we know the best of all those. Jesus does indeed welcome all, that they might know the Father through him and come to receive the Spirit at the end of his ministry.
He does, and he welcomes. He’s not a respecter of persons. He does not show partiality in who he receives, but some show partiality towards him, nevertheless. “Those who he would gather, but they would not.”
Anthony: This is a favorite parable of many, and there’s quite a bit to unpack. And I just want to give you a chance to rift, Gary, just to share whatever you’d like with our listening audience from this particular pericope.
Gary: Yes. I’ve actually given several sermons just on this one parable. There is a lot to unpack, especially to pay attention to the whole and how all the parts fit and how the other two parables lead up to it, much less Jesus’ ministry. But as a highlight, he’s questioning the leaders of the Jewish people who object to those listening to Jesus and his message about God and God’s relationship to those who are lost. But his parable also is a word of help to all, whether leaders or potential followers, who see who God is and what it means to be in right relationship with him, who see in Jesus, the true nature of God’s heart, mind, character, purpose, will, and ways.
So, as I said before, the religious leaders were often thinking the main game is to avoid absolutely as much as possible, any need to repent. In other words, to establish your own righteousness on the basis of following God’s laws. And if those don’t work, create laws around those laws and laws around those laws and laws around those laws.
So you can’t even get near the central law to violate it. And then God will be happy with you. You avoided the need to receive repentance. Of course, that whole pattern of avoiding too is disobedience, is distrust in who God is, the God who has a welcoming and forgiving heart. So, it seems to me here that what we see is the nature and character of Jesus and therefore of the Father. And he’s giving all a chance to repent and believe in God through him, that is, to come to know God’s true nature, God’s true character and what it means to be in right relationship, which means to receive God’s love and God’s forgiveness, God’s renewal, God’s restoration, and finally God’s transformation to eternal life. I think that’s really what’s going on here. And so yes, the father represents God the Father and the sons represent two different approaches to who they think the Father is.
But I think here what Jesus demonstrates is neither the younger Son nor the older son know the Father’s heart, neither of them in right relationship, not just the younger, but the older. That’s the mistake that’s made. Of course, the people coming to Jesus are represented by the younger son coming back to the father.
Of course, the elder Son represents the Pharisees and Sadducees who are angry at these sinners and tax collectors, surely who are far more sinful than they are, that they shouldn’t be welcomed back like this. They shouldn’t be. So, they’re envious. They’re jealous and they’re protecting their own self-righteousness and the way they think about their relationship with God.
In the end, the parable questions, really everybody, because it presents the true picture of the nature of God’s character and renewal, but it does call for repentance, coming back to the Father.
And I think a third thing that’s missed is, I think, in terms of this parable and what it tells us about Jesus, it seems to me, is that Jesus is the true elder Son here. And if these Pharisees and Sadducees and others were true, elder sons, what would they have done? They would have gone out and gone after the younger rebellious son to bring them back to the father. But not only do they not go out, they said they don’t deserve our going out to get them. We deserve the Father’s favor, not those lost and all.
Jesus as the true elder Son then is the one who goes out, finds the lost son, brings him back to the Father so that they can be reconciled. So that’s the ministry of Jesus, ultimately that is represented here in this parable.
Another interesting thing here is that the elder son – it’s interesting – he says he’s done everything his father has told him to do. What’s his view of the relationship that he has with his father? Again, it’s kind of earning God’s favor, earning God’s love. But it’s interesting; when is the first time he might be willing to admit he disobeyed? When he’s invited to come into the banquet, he refuses. My way of characterizing is the younger son was inwardly rebellious and outwardly rebellious, both, but he began to turn around. And if you say how? I would say is it has to be by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That’s how, but that’s not a part of this story exactly. But it raises the question. The younger son came back by the drawing of the Holy Spirit, but then he doesn’t fully realize the love of the Father until he comes back. But he starts out with an inward rebellion and an outward rebellion, but he does repent.
And when he enters in, rather than keeping with his story, “I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it,” and keep punishing himself. “I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve it. I’m not going in. No, no, no!” He fully repents. How does he repent? By receiving his father’s forgiveness. By receiving it, that’s an even greater humility than just saying I sinned against you and sinned against heaven. He has truly his heart inwardly, and now outwardly he goes into and wears the clothing that his Father gives him that shows his true belonging. So, he changes inwardly and outwardly.
Now what about the elder son? Outwardly, it looks like he’d been conforming, but really he was inwardly rebellious, just as rebellious as the son who left. Inwardly, he was not willing to risk freely receiving the love of the father as it really was. He was attempting to earn what the father has freely given.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen. Have you ever tried to give a gift to someone freely, just spontaneously or maybe planned, but you just wanted to give it to give it and then it’s rejected? “No. Well, let me pay you for it. Well, I’ll have to do something for you.”
I don’t know how to, how do you receive that? Or maybe you’ve done it. I’ve done it. It’s a rejection of it because you don’t want to be beholden to them, because you don’t want to be that close, because you don’t want to be a receiver. You want to be independent in control of your own life in control of the terms of the relationship. You want to be in charge.
And there’s nothing like a legal relationship that does that. If you… then I. If I… then you. We want to protect our pride and our independence, legal relationships with God and with others, if we can manage it. Legal relationships so that the mediator becomes the law between us. And this is the inward rebellion that God, by his mercy and grace has to overcome by his word and his Spirit in us, because we will be like one of these, both outwardly rebellious and inwardly rebellious or outwardly looking like we’re conforming, but inwardly rejecting and rebelling. This is the hardness of the human heart that God, by his Spirit needs to overcome. And that the evil one wants to play on in our lives so that we have at least a modicum of distrust of God, keeping our distance and not freely receiving all that he has to give us.
And so finally though, it does come out, right? The elder son becomes outwardly rebellious. Outwardly, he refuses to go into the banquet. He refuses to hear, “Son, you’ve misunderstood me all along all. That was mine is yours all those years because you belong to me, because you’re my son.”
And the truth comes out, and I think this parable then exposes everybody’s need, whether you’ve been inwardly and outwardly rebellious or not, of course we’ve all been some of both I’m sure. Well, if I know myself anyway. So, this is very powerful, but also confronting. And I think some of us – sometimes I’ve asked people, how do you think of yourself or how do other people regard you? As a goody-goody? So, you’re like the elder son? Or you’re the outwardly rebellious one?
I think we tend to categorize ourselves and others in these two things, but Jesus shows, we both need the love of the Father that is brought to us by he himself, even in telling this parable. He’s being the true elder Son by telling this.
Anthony: You know, as I’ve thought about this passage through the years, Gary, I can’t help as I try to think Christologically about it, that this scripture should always lead us to praise, right? If it doesn’t, we’re doing it wrong. If theology doesn’t lead us to worship, we’re doing it wrong. But as I’ve tried to think about this, Christologically, I’m grateful that Jesus, the True Son, is the one who came into the far country into the wilderness, as we were reading in an earlier passage, to rescue us, to do it on our behalf and in our place. And thanks be to God that he welcomes us, at every turn he’s willing to receive us back as we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This is good news.
And I just want to thank you for being a part of this conversation today. It was rich and there’s so much for our pastors and teachers to chew on because of what you said. And I’m just thankful that your theological mind and heart leads to an exegesis that points out the living Word in the written word.
Thank you, brother, for being a part of this conversation. And as is our typical way of ending here on Gospel Reverb, I’m going to ask that you pray over those who are listening, that they would continue to, as you said over and over, to repent, to have their mind radically changed and reoriented to God.
And I thank you for what you said as well – one other point of emphasis I wanted to mention – what you said about the warning passages, which there are many in the New Testament, that that’s always done out of love. God in Jesus Christ never acts out of character. He can only act out of his character, which is love.
And even a warning is an act of love that draws us into right relationship with him. Thank you, brother. Would you pray over our listening audience as we close up shop here today?
Gary: Yes. Thank you. Anthony, it has been a privilege to be with you. Let me pray.
Gracious God, Father, son, and Holy Spirit, how grateful we are that we have your word and that even by your Spirit, you can give us ears to hear and hearts willing to receive.
Even though we have to die to our pride, we come alive in you. And so by your word and by your Spirit, which will be at work upon all those who hear this at a later time, because you’re the living God who continues to speak by your word. Would you use these words? Not for my sake, for GCI’s sake, but for the sake of your glory and your goodness that each one who hears this might hear your word, might hear you speaking in them, that they might hear of your true nature, your true character.
Then they might be drawn to you and be willing to die, to pride, die to self-satisfaction, leave behind the hope of any kind of self-righteousness because that’s never what you wanted or intended, but to give us yourself as a gift and all that we have in you, all that you accomplished for us, overcoming the evil one himself, and all the temptations that come to us from the world, and that the evil one plays on and the weakness of our fallen flesh.
And so Lord, we entrust your word and these words that we’ve exchanged in this recording, that you would use it for your glory to bring many to you, to strengthen and encourage all who listened to it. Draw them closer to you into a deeper trust and confidence in your holy love shown to us so powerfully in Jesus Christ that we might worship you, Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
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