Thursday, February 26, 2009

Christus Exemplar?

One of the first, and best, Biblical Theology articles i've read was this one by David Gibson on Luke 3 and 4. What follows is not so much the oak tree that grew from Gibson's acorn, but more a leaf, on a branch of that mighty tree.

The various accounts of Jesus' time in the wilderness can either be of great encouragement, or of nearly always condemnation invoking moralising. Preaching or listening to this text can either serve as a fresh coal on the fire or an idea that can squash the life out of our battle against temptation. Text + Context = meaning, so if we want to understand what's really going on in the desert we need to read the account within in it's place in scripture (Bish taught me that in February 2004 and it's still about the most important thing i've ever learnt about how to read the Bible)

Luke 3:21-4:13
Goodness, is there a more unfortunate chapter division in the Bible? I might cast the Numbers 7/8 hat in the ring, but this comes pretty close. Luke 3 ends with a genealogy...boring. Or in fact, key to our understanding of what follows? Why is Adam called the Son of God in 3:38? Jesus is the Son of God right? Luke draws us to the parallel between Adam, son #1 and Jesus son #1. Where Adam failed to be obedient, Jesus succeeds. Where Adam disobeyed God, Jesus obeyed. Jesus is the better son, the perfect son. But there's more in Luke. Every time the Devil comes to Jesus, he is beaten away with scripture. So we use scripture to fight temptation right? Well that works, and wonderfully so often, but often it doesn't, and i don't believe that was what was on Luke's mind when he was writing this. Jesus fights from Deuteronomy...from the desert book, from the time Israel wondered in the wilderness. Jesus is the better Israel, the perfect Son of God.

Matthew 3:13-4:11
Matthew follows the same pattern. There's no genealogy, but Jesus is out of the water, hailed as the prophesied suffering King, goes into the desert and assaulted by temptation. Did he want bread? Of course he did, but the bread of heaven, the real, true manna; the words from the mouth of God, not just loaves that would go stale with time. Matthew records Jesus quoting the same verses as Luke. The same desert verses from the old, failed son.

Mark 1:9-13
I love the way Mark starts his Gospel, no extended reflection, so Christmas story, lets just get on with it. Again the water, the voice from Heaven hails Jesus as a king who will rule and suffer and is driven into the wilderness where He is tempted. There's no record of the temptation itself, Mark seems to see this as a part of the story of Jesus' baptism...but the images are there.

On his death bed Machen wrote 'so thankful for the active obedience of Christ, no hope without it.' I'm glad he didn't write 'so thankful for the moral example of Christ.' Jesus is the perfect Son, everything Adam never was, everything Israel never was, everything you or i will never, ever be. Jesus is our substitute, the Father 'looks on Him and pardons me.' If we read carefully, we can be so encouraged, so fed, so warmed by the wilderness temptations. If not, we risk reading it as just something else we should do, but very much struggle to. I think 'Christ our example' is right and encouraging, but if we get it from the desert, we'll be struggling, and discouraged.

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