Sometimes you just have to leave

Jesus arrives in Galilee and Luke tells us he returned, “ … in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” (Luke 4:14-15)

Then (Luke 4:16) “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up …”

He decides to go back home. His mother and brothers are there. Everyone likes to go back to where they were brought up. Everything seems smaller when you go back home. The streets and the buildings are not as huge as in your memory. He certainly found Nazareth to be small-minded.

Matthew writes, “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali” (Matthew 4:13)

He left Nazareth because in his words ‘no prophet is welcome in their hometown’ (Luke 4:24).

What happened? Why did he leave?

Sometimes you have had to move on. You couldn’t stay. Maybe you wanted to. It could have been all so different. Not everyone understood the reason because they were not there when you made that decision. There have been times when you simply had to leave people behind. The place of that decision may have been the one place you least expected it. For Jesus, his hometown, the place of familiarity became the place of rejection.

In the synagogue on a Sabbath day, Jesus caused offence. He announced the love of God and that his focus of ministry would be to reach the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

The people of the synagogue were furious and they dragged Jesus to the cliff of Nazareth to throw him off. Luke writes how Jesus walked right through them (4:30).

Authority is being able to be taken to a cliff edge but not be thrown off it. You may think you are on the edge today and that actually you are really close to giving up. But within you is the presence of Christ and you have the authority to resist.

Authority is being able to walk through a condemning crowd. The fear of man is a snare. Ignore the threats and what people have said they will do or won’t do. Ignore and walk on. Walking away from conflict is at times stronger than staying for it.

Authority is saying I choose where I surrender and who I surrender to. Jesus knew this was not the place for his death. They would not take his life from him. He came to lay his life down.

Nazareth’s loss became Capernaum’s gain!

Jesus set up ministry base-camp in Capernaum and the towns close by of Korazin and Bethsaida. We will read later how Jesus did more miracles in these 3 towns than anywhere else (Matthew 11:20).

When you look at the story of your life you will see how with your God-given authority you have had to leave those who rejected you. It was painful but you began new chapters because you came to realise that sometimes you just have to leave.

Faith is learning to live with missing pieces to the story.

This is it. The ministry has begun. Baptised by John, hearing his Father’s voice, being led by the Spirit in and out of the desert’s temptations, he is now ready! He is empowered. Then see what happens …

When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee. (Matthew 4 v 12)

Isn’t this strange to you? On first reading it can look like Jesus wasn’t bothered about John being in prison. There isn’t any reaction except it looks like he is withdrawing perhaps also afraid?

Have you ever written an email and you left out some details because either a) you didn’t want your letter to end up being an encyclopaedia or b) the other details were not relevant to what you were wanting to focus on? However the person reading it totally misunderstood what you had written.

Look at the next verse which we will unpack tomorrow:

“Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum” v 13.

So when he decided to withdraw to Galilee, did he leave Nazareth to go to Capernaum? NO. Nazareth is in Galilee. So there is a period of time in between verse 12 and 13. He left for Galilee – gap (presumably arrived in Nazareth) – then he left Nazareth.

Similarly, Matthew leaves Jesus in the desert being looked after by angels in verse 11 and immediately John is in prison in verse 12. Another gap.

The recording of life is full of gaps. There are things we do not know. We are thankful for the other gospels that bring us information that brings the missing jigsaw pieces. But sometimes life has missing pieces. When you are trying to make a judgment about something then digging for evidence is important. An official investigation is often needed to settle disputes. Fake news is often created by taking half a sentence and taping it seamlessly to another half sentence creating a whole new story. So we do need wisdom of course otherwise we will be believing anything.

But settling our minds that there are things to life’s story that we simply do not know allows for a life to be lived by faith.

In between the desert and “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee.” What had been happening?

John tells us in his gospel (chapters 1-3) that Jesus had called his first disciples, he performed his first miracle at the Wedding in Cana (north east of Nazareth, in Galilee), he goes and spends a few days in Capernaum with his mother, brothers and disciples before going to Jerusalem to clear out the temple. Finally, he encounters Nicodemus and then settles at Aenon to baptise, on the west side of the Jordan.

He hears of John’s imprisonment which happened under Herod in Galilee, a region populated by Gentiles but a rising dominance of Jewish settlers in the cities and towns. John is down but Jesus goes to take up the baton. The work carries on. He will carry the same message, ‘Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near’. It is heaven’s message. He withdraws to Nazareth and along the way he will meet a Samaritan woman at the well. But that’s another missing jigsaw piece for Matthew. He returns to Galilee and behind him are already many stories and encounters with people. Lives are changed and God has been glorified.

It is the same with you. When people look at you they see a life where you have lived and the major things you have done. You are fine with that. At the end of our time people will say, ‘he/she lived a full life’ and they will have actually no idea! They will not know just exactly what you have done. The conversations you have had, the acts of kindness you have given, a trail of love and grace behind you, the poor you have helped, the broken you have healed. Yes, a full life indeed. And there were gaps of missing information that you had to live with. Questions unanswered, things you didn’t know but you found that faith is learning to live with missing pieces from the story.

Ministering angels come and fallen angels leave

Do you remember that great sleep you had when you were not expecting it after the ordeal you went through? When the world around you seemed to collapse and people commented on how strong you were being, how do you think that was? Has anyone ever said to you that you knocking on their door or calling them was being there at just the right time? Was that really just a coincidence? Strange things do happen. But maybe they are actually not strange at all.

“Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.” (Matthew 4 v 11)

The fallen angel would be back but for now he has gone. When we resist him he does flee.

The angels that Jesus was tempted to call upon for a spectacular demonstration were actually not far away. They never are.

Angels are not fat little babies with wings, they are full-grown adults. They are stronger than us and they have greater knowledge. Jesus was made lower than the angels. They appear in bodies but also whole armies can be missed as in the case with Elisha’s servant. They are worshippers as Revelation shows us. They direct individuals, like Joseph in Matthew 1-2 and Philip in Acts 8. They strengthened Jesus, the apostles and Paul and they strengthen us too.

How did the angels know where to find Jesus? The wilderness is a vast place.

Today friends, wherever you are, God knows.

He has seen the trials you have gone through. He knows the dry place where you find yourself in. He knows your human needs. Jesus was hungry. He knows your spiritual needs. Jesus must have been drained from such an ordeal. God knows and He knows what to do next. He knows whether to fill your life with His presence and to breathe His Spirit into the Temple of your life. He also knows whether to send someone to your door. Angels are never far from you.

You have the Word of God and the Spirit of God within you and angels at His disposal to minister and serve your needs. This is why you remain and the fallen angel leaves!

(3) – ‘I WANT TO BE RELEVANT, POPULAR AND POWERFUL’

What will you use to become powerful? Who will you use?

The very essence of Christianity tells us that the destination (salvation) is only achieved by one way (the cross). The third temptation of Jesus was to try and cause him to give up the way by focusing on the destination and deceiving him to change the journey.

“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.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” (Matthew 4 v 8-10)

Jesus had come to save the world that he was now being shown and to do it through the cross.

He is presented with a short-cut, away from the painful sacrifice.

Which is more important? Ruling the nations (after all one day every knee will bow) or the cross?

Earth often feels more understanding than heaven.

The temptation was to substitute the God of heaven with the god of the earth (it will cost you) versus the way of the cross (the sacrifice).

The moment we decide that earth is more important than heaven is the moment we have stopped kneeling before heaven.

Today I will host 2 zoom services to induct new ministers into their churches. Many will gather online to have a look at their new minister. Hopes will be high that a new day has come.

Near where I used to live is what used to be a church which has now been converted into offices. In the grounds is a very small brick building, almost like an outhouse. It was the study of John Nelson, the most successful and famous of John Wesley’s lay assistants and the pioneer of Methodism in Yorkshire. That study is still there today despite being over 300 years old. It is empty and crumbling and I am sure one day someone will knock it down completely. In that place 3 centuries ago a man would kneel before heaven and pay the price for a county to be saved.

I see danger. I see deceit. I see the third temptation. It is to get us away from kneeling before heaven.

My prayer today will be that the 2 new ministers will continually kneel before their God of heaven.

You see Churches today are needing strategists, problem solvers, business executives, high ranking managers, visionaries, movers and shakers. People are following transactional leaders, democratic leaders, charismatic leaders, introverted leaders, transformational leaders, authoritarian leaders, delegating leaders and of course coaches and mentors. So leaders go online, get a book or go conference-hopping to be that very person that everyone is dreaming of. The praying, weeping, studying, kneeling, fasting, longing worship is becoming a very small brick monument that is crumbling and empty.

And the problem? We never did get the kingdoms of the world. It was all a mirage. The devil has no self-awareness. He is deluded, blinded by his own lies.

Is there a way back? Of course! Back on your knees. Deuteronomy 6 says ‘worship and serve the God of heaven only’ and in doing so you go the way of the cross. It is the only way.

(2) – ‘I WANT TO BE RELEVANT, POPULAR AND POWERFUL’

Don’t let others mould you or intimidate you to be someone you never desired or intended to be. 
Stick with your message, don’t let others take it from you or cause you to change it. The journey is as important as the destination as we will see now…

“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.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matthew 4 v 5-7)

Not everyone who can quote the Bible or appeals to the loving side of God is someone to be trusted!

Of course Jesus knew Psalm 91 and he also knew that he could do this. Later in the gospel (26:53) Jesus says he can call on the angels to be at his disposal.

The temptation to be spectacular and to win the crowd is ever before us.

Can you imagine what the people would say if Jesus had given in? This would do it. This would prove who he was. What a start to him being the Messiah! Sometimes the short-cut is disobedience.

Jesus didn’t need to do that. He knew what the Voice from heaven had said. He knew the Father’s appreciation and acknowledgment of His Sonship. He didn’t need people to confirm this.

We don’t need the popular vote. Maybe today you feel you have lost it. Your reputation is damaged and you feel you have lots to prove. You want acceptance and to feel included again. Maybe you are the new kid on the block and you want to be known. If this is you then you are so close to this second temptation. Hurry! Go back a few steps. Return to when God spoke to you. When heaven opened and you felt His presence. Wasn’t that amazing?! Now don’t test that. Keep the faith. You know who you are and who you belong to. If you never get the popular vote you got HIS.

You are not here to gain support and be known as someone. You are here to do HIS will. Hold your nerve. Be who you are. Avoid the show.

‘I WANT TO BE RELEVANT, POPULAR AND POWERFUL’

Who said this?

Was it Jesus?

No, it is the tempted leader.

“The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4 v 3-4)

“If I can turn stones into bread, I can feed myself (Jesus was hungry) but I could also feed the hungry. Imagine 5,000 on the hillside waiting for me to preach but there is no food? I could make a difference there and then. I could show the supernatural God through me.”

Jesus knew he could do this miracle.

But just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

To close down the testing he quotes Deuteronomy 8. Temptation often involves the twisting of Scripture and we need to untwist it so that truth sets us free.

The Spirit led me here under the gaze of the Father and He knows what I need and how long I will be in this place, so I wait for Him.

I know who I am and who I belong to.

You are not called to meet all the needs that are put before you. It is okay to be in need. Just wait awhile. The temptation to be relevant, to sort it out, to make things right, to be the superstar are ever before us. Leave room for need; your own and others. God will speak just wait.

Is this the move of the Spirit we long for?

The dove has come. The voice from heaven has spoken. We are ready.

Let’s begin with a miracle or a teaching, let’s get this plan started.

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temptedby the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him …” (Matthew 4 v 1-3)

It begins with a wilderness, a fast and a battle with temptation.

We see three characters.

The Spirit is the agent that will enable Jesus throughout his ministry. He leads him into the difficult arid and dangerous place of the wilderness.

The devil is the agent who will consistently try to thwart what God is wanting to do through Jesus. He is always ready, especially in the dry place.

Jesus, the Father’s plan, chooses to fast for forty days and forty nights.

In a few sentences we see here the keys to a move of the Spirit.

  1. He is moving in our lives more than perhaps we recognise. He takes us into the difficult places. He is leading us into the wilderness. He takes us into the circumstance of being alone.
  2. Your move is crucial. Fast. Go without. It is to forgo normal activity so that you can focus on what God is wanting. Move to make things uncomfortable for yourself, pay a price, ‘he was hungry’. However you choose to fast, do so until it hurts.
  3. The tempter will move towards you so be ready. However we view these temptations eg money, power and pride, many fall and do not see the move of the Spirit in their life that they longed for. Why is the tempter even there? It is a test. Ultimately it is to strengthen you. You can resist most things when you know it will be worth it. It always is.

Our churches need a new beginning. To move into being the people God has called us to be. What Moses and Israel failed to do within the forty years Jesus stepped in to fulfil within the forty days.

Our churches need Eden again. The presence of God. Jesus would fulfil what the first Adam failed to do. He faced the temptation in the wilderness and towards the end of his life would meet him in the garden for a final battle.

We need a move of the Spirit and it will always and only ever be found in what Christ has done. Following, worshipping and witnessing of Jesus.

May our churches fall in love with Jesus as their first-love; may they speak of Jesus more than anything else; may all their plans and programmes be about Jesus. For we long for a move of the Spirit.

We need leaders.

In any crisis there is a call for leadership. Many will step forward to try and fill that gap. What kind of leader do we need? What kind of person will we choose to be? Let’s read some more verses of Matthew …

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.” Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3 v 13-17)

  • He didn’t come with a vitriolic advertising campaign riding in from Jerusalem or with a band of discontented rebels. I don’t want to line up with self-proclaimed conquerors or complainers anymore. He came in from Galilee to be baptised by John. He came from Nazareth (it means hidden place). ‘Can anything good come from Galilee?’ We need leaders who know the hiding place. Heroes are to be found in humble surroundings. Throughout his ministry he was known as ‘Jesus of Nazareth and when he died it was written above his head. Where you have been is as important as where you are going.
  • He didn’t come to fulfil his personal dream and desires with a 10 point plan for greatness. I don’t want to line up with man-made strategies and the latest business plans guaranteed to solve problems. He came to fulfil all righteousness and by doing so he was baptised along with the common man. His identification with the baptismal sin-confessing candidates showed his desire to be obedient to God’s plan of salvation revealed through the prophets. We need leaders who know the Bible and who have a desire to fulfil the directives of God within it.
  • He didn’t come out of the water surrounded by an angelic army. When heaven opened all the riches in heaven didn’t fall on him. I don’t want to line up with leaders who live lavish lifestyles and pursue worldly gain. I do want to follow the dove. He got the dove. A poor man’s sacrificial offering for the Temple; what Noah sent out to determine if the floodwaters had receded and it is a term of endearment in the Song of Songs. We need leaders who are sent out as a sacrifice of love.
  • He didn’t come to crave man’s praise, appreciation and acceptance. He didn’t pursue the popular vote. I don’t want to line up with leaders who are concerned with what people think about them. There is no confidence in that approach. We need leaders who live confident in the love and appreciation of God and that this is all that matters to them.

This pandemic is a breaker. The world is shaking. It is not as strong as we thought it was. It has given time for us to pause, to reflect and to re-evaluate what is important. Choose who you will follow and choose who you will be.

What I don’t want anymore and what I do want.

John is baptising for repentance. He was calling the people to turn their lives around. To change and to come back to God. It involved their effort of course. If they were not going to be determined to change then it wouldn’t happen. But then John says something else …

 “I baptize you withwater for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you withthe Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3 v 11-12)

Chaff is the outer, protective shell of a grain which needs removing as it is inedible for humans. It is then usually burnt or used for animal fodder.

This is not about burning non-believers in an unquenchable hell but about winnowing believers so that our hard self-protection is removed and burnt.

What is that self-protection?

Of course there is no excuse for any form of abuse and every one of us should protect ourselves in such situations.

But we can easily create an outer layer, a mask of protection or we build around us addiction or over working because no one is going to get to the real me.

Only Jesus can deal with the chaff and it is through the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.

After the pandemic, I don’t want to go back to:

  • The big charismatic personalities who the crowds chase after. There is ‘one more powerful than I’ and we need to chase after Him.
  • The ‘Jesus is my mate’ attitude. His ‘sandals I am not worthy to carry’ and so less presumption is what we need.
  • The hard exterior of churches who will not bend or break to the will of God. May the winnowing fork do its work and the chaff be broken away.

I do want to see fire.

I want to see lives saturated with the Spirit of God.

I want to see passion for Jesus possessing them with an intensity of a fire.

I want to see the spirit of cold obedience kindled with an eager devotion.

I want to see the baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Things that happen through a wilderness moment.

John the Baptist would have been raised to learn the Torah, the Talmud and the oral traditions of the Jewish faith. Many would have thought he would become a priest like his father Zechariah. But God had other plans for him and he lived in the wilderness.

Matthew has told us that he looked and lived like the wilderness. We have images of a rugged wild man who hadn’t combed his hair in a while or eaten a decent meal for years. The impact on lockdown!

In the last lockdown people laughed at how long my hair had got and I am doing all I can to make sure in this lockdown I don’t put on weight!

Wherever you are reading this blog from. Whether you are in lockdown or simply describing your circumstance as somewhat of a wilderness experience then please be encouraged that what you are struggling with is having a positive impact on you.

We may not realise this fully yet, however, when you are going through difficulty whether a war, a debilitating illness, persecution or the lockdown of a pandemic, it changes you. Deserts change you. This could be a season of refinement for us. There may be losses. Some may walk away within the wilderness but those that emerge could come forward changed. Let’s read some verses:

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3 v 7-10)

Whatever you think of John the Baptist he had courage!

So what had the lockdown done to this wilderness man?

Maybe you can describe your life as a period of wilderness, it has been difficult for you and you know you have changed. Let me suggest what may emerge from you from these verses.

He could see through the united front of two parties that were usually opposed to one another.

We will have a greater discernment. Seeing what is false and what is behind masks of pretence. Being able to spot strange alliances. Not being taken for a fool. The wilderness has slowed us down and we know what matters now.

He called for change.

Going through the motions of Christian duty are not enough for us anymore. Church going is over. Being the Church that Christ died for is all that we want to give our time to. Fruitfulness is not weighed within the Church building but in how we conduct our lives outside it.

He wasn’t enamoured with the past.

Our heritage will always be something to be thankful for. However a fresh experience of God with a daily in-filling of the Spirit is crucial to us now rather than how many ancient stories you know and how many people know you.

He believed God can start all over again.

We will want to do this. We do not want to return to what we once had and were. There is a repositioning of our lives. We will come out of our wilderness from a different place than how we went into it. People died in there and out of honour to them we cannot simply go back to life as normal. Everything is special now. Life has become even more precious. Thankfulness for what was normal before is on our lips and in our hearts. A new day is dawning.

He didn’t want to waste time on trees that were useless.

A major clean-out will happen. As when we throw out clothes and items we have never used for years there is a radical need to be real and if it doesn’t work then we stop it. ‘Because we have always done it’ will be scrutinised.

I am really looking forward to coming out of the wilderness to see the impact of what God has done in and through us within it.