Rev. Andres Miranda

The Forces of Darkness

Matthew 4:1 –11

Perhaps one of the most overlooked problems of life is the presence of sinister forces that continually oppose everything that human beings can do to make life happy and sacred. So –beyond the disturbances that come to us from the environment and the tendencies towards evil that we are born with –we have to struggle with seductions to evil coming from Satan. Outside our physical reality, there are intelligent and evil entities all around us.

In Ephesians 5:12 Paul lifts the curtain of human reality, and he gives us a quick glimpse of this evil domain, which seems to be organised as a kingdom of “rulers, authorities, and powers of this dark world”. They are inhabitants of the heavenly realms that want to subjugate the human race to their influence. If we believe Scripture, we need to face the fact that these evil superhuman beings exist in other realms of life –and that this realm is beyond the possibility of explaining it through human observations.

Now –Jesus came to show God to the human race. He also came to reveal what human beings are without God. I want to take this further, and say that Jesus also came to reveal the existence of these spiritual forces that oppose humanity. And it’s only when we study the conflict of Jesus with these evil forces, that we can understand their power and how we can conquer them. In Matthew 4 Satan comes to Jesus with three temptations –to make the stones into bread, to throw himself from the top of the temple, and to secure the kingdoms of the world. 

The story of Satan confronting Jesus in the desert, not only describes three different episodes of temptation, but the text also helps us to see that this hostile spirit follows certain methods for tempting people. Let me show you what I mean. In Matthew chapter 3, Jesus has come out from the isolation of Galilee, and he came to the Jordan to be baptised. There, he heard the voice of his Father saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

Then, the devil begins to tempt Jesus.  This immediately tells me that Christians are more vulnerable to the attacks of Satan, when they experience a new vision or a new understanding of God.  Having a new understanding God is more than thinking in a different way. When we have a new vision of God we experience practical understanding –and this understanding becomes the basis for the motivation of new actions of love and service and worship. No wonder the devil chooses this moment to tempt us. But the devil doesn’t stop there. He often comes to us with the suggestion that what he has to offer is a good thing. Look what verse 2 says:

After fasting for forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.

A hungry person must satisfy the need for food. So- Satan says to Jesus in verse 3:

If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.

That’s the first temptation. Notice carefully. Satan doesn’t tempt Jesus to do evil with some repulsive suggestion, but he comes to him with the proposition that he’s going to give him something that’s good in itself.

The devil says to Jesus, ‘Common, tell these stone to become bread, you need it! The tempter wants Jesus to use his powers for his self-interest.  But Jesus refused to do it. But there’s another side to this temptation. Jesus is the Son of God. He knew that. And the devil wants Jesus to misuse that relationship. Look what he said to him in the first part of verse 3:

If you are the Son of God

The devil didn’t say, “give up your relationship with your Father for a moment”, he’s actually telling him Jesus –use it and use for your advantage –use it for a perfectly natural human need –make bread. In verse 8, the devil is also using a temptation, which is coming from good logic. Look again what the devil says:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. All this I will give you, he said, if you will bow down and worship me.

That makes sense, right? Jesus came to get the kingdoms of the world, and to rule over them. And Satan is only offering to him precisely what Jesus came for.  This is a very cunning temptation. There’s nothing vulgar –offensive in the words. They are logical and seem to suggest something good and right.  That’s also the case with verses 5 and 6. Look what it says:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.

For it is written:“ ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.

What can be more beautiful and inspiring than for the Son of God to surrender himself completely to the strength and tenderness of the Father? The devil is saying to the Lord; “Look here’s a great opportunity for you to prove the love and responsibility of your Father”. Go out to him! throw yourself down!. If God is your Father you’ll only find the tenderness of his love and the strength of his protective arms.

So- the passage shows that the devil is very subtle and a good logician. The text also underlines another method that the devil uses in his attacks –persistence.  After the temptations, verse 11 says this:

Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

When you read this, it’s important to remember that the conflict between Jesus and the devil didn’t stop in the desert. The devil only left him for a while. Do you know when the devil finally left him? He left him on the morning of the resurrection. The devil never left Jesus alone until that time. The devil is very persistent. He followed Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane –he followed him to the cross – the presence of the devil is relentless and uncompromising (see Luke 22:28 -44). Only when Jesus came back triumphantly from the realm of death –these forces of evil left him and gave up their attempts to conquer and destroy the life of the Son of God. Remember the methods of the devil (1) he attacks when we are vulnerable, (2) he attacks when you have experienced a new vision of God, (3) and his temptations are based on the suggestions that seem to be good and right.     

So –how can we overcome the devil? First, be aware of the methods of the devil. To be aware is to be prepared. If you are aware of his method you are half –way to being victorious over him. Second, we need to protect ourselves against the devil by understanding the will of God written in the Bible. If we remain within the boundaries of the will of God we have a fortress that no demonic force can penetrate. The devil said: “Tell these stone to become bread”, Jesus answered, “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus is saying here: My life is not the life you think it is. You think I only live for physical needs. You're wrong. My life is to live every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The secret of our victory is summarised by James 4:7:

Submit yourself to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Questions

What was the purpose of the temptations of Jesus?

  1. Jesus was the messiah. He knew it. In the desert he had to decide how he was going to win people to God. He could’ve persuaded the people to follow him by given them bread and material things. God did it in the past with the manna. Jesus also fed multitudes miraculously. What’s wrong with that? a) it would it been a bribe, b) would’ve been a denial of what he taught about giving –and not getting, c) it wouldn’t been a quick fix for humanity. The real problem is not physical hunger –but how to satisfy the emptiness of the heart. The only way to true satisfaction, in every sense of the word, is complete dependence in God.

 

Hebrews 2:14 -18 say that Jesus can help those who are being tempted. So- how can Jesus help?

First, he purifies our nature by making atonement for the sins of his people.

Second, Jesus knows what is like to be tempted.  From the beginning to the end of his ministry, Jesus had to fight the devil. The conflict between him and Satan didn’t start in the desert. The Lord Jesus faced temptations during his entire life. That’s why he can help us fight our battles.

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Rev. Andres Miranda

Through One Man

Heredity

Romans 5:12 –21

 

Every baby starts the journey of life with some physical qualities that are inherited from each parent. In the field of human development this is called heredity. The Bible also speaks of heredity. But it tells us something else. It tells us that not only do we pass on physical qualities from one generation to another, but we also inherit from the people that we are connected to –a serious problem. The theological description of this problem is the doctrine of the fall of man, or the doctrine of the transmission of sin.  Our text talks about this problem, and shows us very clearly that sin is part of our human inheritance.  Look what Romans 5:12 says:

 

Therefore, just as a sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because of sin.

 

And again in verse 19:

 

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

The apostle Paul is making a contrast between Adam and Jesus, the representatives of the human race, to show us the consequences of the sin of Adam and the value of work of Jesus. The apostle tells us that everyone that starts to live in the human race becomes dysfunctional from the beginning, right from the moment of birth! In fact, Paul is even more specific. He says that all human beings have inherited evil tendencies from someone before them. It doesn’t matter if that person was your father or your mother, Paul tells us in verse 19 that through the disobedience of Adam “many were made sinners”. So- we are sinners by birth, and we are sinners because Adam transmitted his sin to us.

We have a tendency to different forms of sin in our natures. And because of this sinful tendency inherited from Adam all people will die as the punishment of sin. You see, from the time of Adam sin and death became inseparably connected. Sin is very serious. It’s universal and it has terrible consequences. This text also underlines an important teaching about the character God. What’s that? God deals with us individually and personally. But what about Exodus 20:5?

You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me

 

Doesn’t this text show that God punishes children for the sin of the parents? No. It doesn’t? Read it carefully. Listen again:

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 

The meaning is pretty straightforward: If the generations continue to hate, they’ll be punish. Then verse 6 says:

But showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

 

So, if the father or mother show covenantal faithfulness, but the son hates the Lord –the son, not the parents will be punished. Moses and Paul want us to see that God won’t punish people because their parents were unbelievers. God will punish people because our inherited tendency to sin makes us disobey God. But there’s another important truth in the text that Paul explains side by side. That truth is found in the same passage, in the second half of verse 20:

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.

This statement is obviously connected to verse 19:

 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

So- “where sin increased, grace increased all the more”. The contrasts here are between the reign of death and the reign of grace. And between the one through whom the trespass came, and the one through whom the free gift came. Now, notice how the contrast is emphasised by the phrase, “grace increased all the more”. Paul is saying that in the gift of grace we have an overwhelming provision for the catastrophe of inherited sin.  Sin doesn’t have a chance with the large, unlimited amounts of divine forgiveness Paul calls grace. No matter how far the sin of Adam has, and is spreading, the blessings of the work of Jesus are even more extensive and rich for our deliverance. We have two inheritances in the world then: one is the inheritance that we are born with and makes us do sinful things. But we also have an inheritance available in Jesus Christ that releases us from the power of sin.  This inheritance is more than power to be righteous. Think again about the magnificence of verse 20 and 21:

but where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

 

Paul mentions three consequences of the grace of God coming into this life because of Jesus Christ: (1) The reign of sin has been overthrown, and (2) in its place the grace of Jesus takes the throne and begins to reign, and (3), the result of all this, is the inheritance of a kind of life that goes on and on, without end. Not just eternal. But a kind of life that is transformative, abundant, and unlimited in possibilities for a living a real life with God.  What this passage says is not complicated:  It’s now possible for every human being to escape from the actions of Adam and Jesus by choosing a relationship with either of them. By faith in Jesus, a person can be set free from the all the inherited consequences of sin. By continuing in the inherited tendencies of the sin of Adam, a human person will be excluded from all benefits of the work of Jesus.

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Rev. Andres Miranda

In Him we Live

In Him we live and move and have our being...

Acts 17:16-28

We’ve talked about the problem of self. The self is our internal environment where thoughts, the sense of identity, and spiritual desires take place. Self is who we are. And the self can be a problem when we don’t know ourselves. Now –we’re going to focus on the pressures that disturb the human person from the outside.  Every human person lives in two domains of existence –the domain of the bio-psychological and the domain of interactions with what is outside the skin.

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Rev. Andres Miranda

The Problems of Life

Self

Psalm 8

In this song the psalm-singer incidentally touches on one of the most serious problems of human life –and it’s a problem that includes all other problems. The problem is to know who we are. If human beings knew who they were –there wouldn’t be conflicts in our personalities. When you know who you are –you can look into your relationship of yourself with yourself, and you become what you should be, and you also find God. So, I repeat: the most serious problem that we face as human beings is the problem of self –“knowing who we really are”.   

Who I am? What I am? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the meaning of these conflicting aspects of my personality? What is man? That’s the question! And to answer it we’re going to focus on some observations that David makes about what we are.

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Rev. Andres Miranda

Principles of Spiritual Development

The elder needs constant readjustment of his personal life with the purpose of God in the Bible. Part of that process is prayer. Without it there is always lacking that something that makes holiness holiness.

The Habit of Prayer  

Luther once said: “Prayer, meditation and temptation make a Minister”. The same is true for the elder. The need for prayer in the Christian ministry is underlined by the disciples’ request in Luke 11:1 “Lord, teach to pray”. That request is often misunderstood. Notice that the disciples did not say: “Lord, teach us how to pray”, but teach us “to pray”. They are not asking for techniques or a prayer manual. Their request is “teach us to pray”. Many elders, perhaps, know how to pray, but they do not actually pray. Shepherding God’s flock demands that elders carry out their pastoral commitments in a prayerful spirit.  The elder who is concerned for the welfare of the flock will make the church a subject of continual supplication.     

Study Questions

In Acts 6: 1-4 Luke records the following incident within the church in Jerusalem:

 

Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

 

What do we learn about the organisation of the early church here?

 

 

Luke tells us that as the result of the preaching of the gospel, the church grew in numbers, and whenever the church grows in number new conditions of Christian service must be created. The apostles recognised the importance of caring for the disadvantaged in the community, but they said: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables”... “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” What was the purpose of this?

 

 

The Habit of Bible-Reading

 One cannot read the words of Paul “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Timothy 4:13) without concluding that this is a general word to office-bearers in the congregation.  Elders, therefore, should cultivate the habit of Bible-reading. In fact, the elder should carry out his ministry from beginning to end without exception by “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:5). This obviously involves reading. Bible-reading is hard work and requires delight in the revelation of God. For that reason, the elder does not simply read the Bible to meet the expectations of his role, but reads the Bible because the interaction with the sacred text is spiritually satisfying to his mind and heart. How do we do this? Bible-reading comprises four steps: reading the text, meditating the text, praying the text, and living the text. This way of reading produces delightful enjoyment of the Bible (Psalm 119:97) and provides passion for God and gladness for service (Psalm 39:3). If intimate acquaintance with the words of God is deficient, the elder will struggle to become a faithful man “who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Study Questions

When we read the Scriptures we lose concentration easily. We get fidgety. Very often we have to drag our wondering thoughts back to the Bible. Why do you think we are losing the ability to read and take pleasure in reading the Bible? What might be the solution to the problem?

 

 

 

Read 2 Timothy 3:16. What is the emphasis of this passage?

 

 

 

 

What sort of things can Bible-reading do for leaders in the congregation?

 

 

The Habit of Being Relational

Part of the job of being an elder involves the development of personal skills. Being an elder does not mean keeping a distance. It requires a relational behaviour that gets right in among the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2). Eldership is not indifferent oversight. In the act of indifference, other believers have no presence, and what happens to him or to her is really outside the sphere of our concerns. This attitude must be viewed as contradictory to Scripture. 

The elder then, should be able to talk to people, to understand them, in order to establish a relationship that encourages openness and trust in the church. The elder will discover that influence and leadership comes by the choice to relate, not from position of rank. This process of becoming more open, more understanding, and more relational is the key to effective communication in ministry.

 If the relationship between the elder and the members of the church does not grow stronger, it will get weaker; if they do not become closer, they will become more distant.  Of course, it is not easy to alter ineffective methods of relating to others. But if we are conscious of our calling, and we are willing to allow God to replace inadequate ways of relating, it will be impossible to remain the same. Change is inevitable. It is important to remember that in all domains of relationships, the idea of being near or distant has nothing to do with proximity or spatial distance, rather the experience is simply the result of the degree of emotional interest that one extends to people in our environment.

Study Questions

In Hebrews 13:7 the author tells the congregation to respect the leaders who spoke to them the word of God, and also to imitate their way of life and faith. It’s obvious that those who guided the flock had a powerful influence in the church. What does this teach us about their interpersonal skills?

 

 

It seems that the leaders whom the author of Hebrews recommends as examples of life and faith were very close to the people, and the people loved them deeply.  What are some of the barriers that hinder people in the church from wanting to imitate the life of an elder?

 

 

Take a moment to reflect on your style of relating to others. Ask yourself these questions: Do I wait for people to make me talk? Do I realise the importance of improving my relationships skills?  Remember that when you reflect, you are actually doing something to change. 

 

 

Notes on good Communication

 

Communication is the most important skill in life. But communication, and contrary to what is commonly thought, is much more than producing acoustic sounds. Communication involves physical gestures, body postures and movements that become a response to stimulus in the moment of communication. So, we need to abandon the idea that we can only communicate through words: all behaviour is communication. Ruesch and Bateson tell us that interpersonal interaction or communication is made up of three actions:

 

(1) The presence of expressive acts on the part of one or more persons.

(2) The conscious or unconscious perception of such expressive acts by others persons.

(3) The return observation that such expressive actions were perceived by others. The perception of having been perceived is a fact which deeply influences and changes human behaviour.

 

As you can see, it is impossible not to communicate. Whatever you do when you are with people, you will be communicating. Even when the person who perceives that is not being perceived (i.e., not acknowledged in communication) will know that we are saying something to him or her. Good communication in the church, therefore, rests on the basis of good interactions among Spirit-filled speakers. 

 

References:

Ruesch, J., and G. Bateson (2008) Communication: The social Matrix of Psychology. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

 

The Habit of Putting First Things First

 

Elder, can you take a moment to think about the following questions: What sort of motivation would I like people to see in me? How I can help my brothers and sisters to feel inspired and move forward with joy and confidence to the future of God? The apostle Paul would say to us: don’t worry about your business, your friends, or your dreams of worldly recognition, just worry about one thing:

 

 "Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14 ESV).

 

Here we find Paul looking back, and looking forward, and then telling us about the overwhelming passion in his mind. He turned his back on the past, and re-centred his behaviour towards the future, and in three words he reveals the secret of this change, “but one thing! This became the frame of reference by which everything else was re-evaluated. This is what defined him.  This “one thing” was the vision that he had for his life, and the vision that inspired others to imitate his example.  

This “one thing” was not just one thing he did –but one thing he became –one thing that influenced others, one thing that he visualised and shaped his entire outlook on life. But, what “one thing”? The things before him, that is, the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. You see, by putting first things first, Paul was able to find passion for Christian service and passion for pressing towards the things of the future –the final perfection in Christ Jesus. So putting first things first means to start and continue our ministry as Elders with a clear understanding of our destination. It means that we know where we are going and we are taking steps to become the man of “one thing” in life. Paul says to us: Get that vision, set your life in the right direction and pursue glorious things by faith in Christ. Brothers, we may be very busy, we may be very efficient, we may be very moralistic, but we can only be the elders that our people need us to be, by doing the “one thing”. Put first things first.     

 

 

What did Paul mean when he wrote, “forgetting what lies behind” (v.13)?

 

 

Sometimes we live in the memory of a conversion experience that happened ten, twenty, forty years ago. Should we leave this blessing in the past? And why? 

 

 

What can you do (that you’re not doing now) that, if you did it on a regular basis, would make you more motivated to do the “one thing”?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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