The Gospel of Matthew Series

The Gethsemane Dilemma

“The rise of individualism has been going on for centuries.” -Jean Twenge

We may be living in one of the most individualistic cultures in the history of the world. For example, in Western society, consider some of the main narratives that are being preached: “Be true to yourself,” “Take charge and follow your dreams,” “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it,” or “Be who you are and say what you feel.” And these are just the start.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that these storylines are gaining traction. Are these not some of the ideals that we should expect to encounter in an ever growing secular society? Probably so. However, what I want to discuss is how these storylines should not be thriving within Christianity. So with that in mind, I would like to briefly examine why modern-day individualism has no home in Christian communities.

The Gethsemane Dilemma

I have spent a lot of time recently reading through the works of the philosopher Paul K. Moser. Through interacting with Moser’s penetrating ideas, I have come to see that all Christians enter into Gethsemane to face a dilemma. If you are familiar with the story of Jesus in Gethsemane in Matthew 26 then hopefully you recognize the predicament that he encountered. Read the text and see if you can find it.

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” -Matthew 26:36-46

The options that Jesus faced looked like this:

  • The Individualistic/Self-Centered Option: “My will, my way.”
  • The Submissive Option: “Father, your will, your way.”

Let’s call this the Gethsemane dilemma. Of course, most of us know what option Jesus chose. He chose the submissive option. He chose the path that lead to his suffering and death (Matt. 27:32-56). Now I don’t think it takes an expert exegete to recognize that this was not exactly the easiest decision for Jesus. In his Gospel, Luke notes that Jesus was sweating blood and in great anguish during his time in Gethsemane (Lk. 22:44). When Jesus choose the submissive option in Gethsemane, he choose facing the greatest suffering that any human had ever faced. Definitely not an easy choice to make. In Jesus’ humanity, he experienced overwhelming anxiety and fear when looking at the road that he had to journey.

However, let’s not quickly skip over the fact (just because we know the end of the story) that Jesus did in fact have a choice in Gethsemane. He could have abandoned ship or aborted mission and chose a different path. He could have taken matters into his own hands and struck down Judas and all of those who came out to arrest him (an advantage of being fully God). And yet, he didn’t. He chose to submit to his Father’s will and walk that dark and lonely road. The Gethsemane dilemma presented Jesus with a choice, as it does for both you and I today.

Entering into Gethsemane

It would be foolish to assume that 21st century Christians face the exact dilemma that Jesus faced in Gethsemane. It’s not likely you will be crucified and die for the sins of the world. Nevertheless, we must assume that we must enter into our own Gethsemane and face the Gethsemane dilemma each and every day. Here’s how.

In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Is this not the Gethsemane dilemma simply restated in a different way? As followers of Jesus, we must enter into Gethsemane and choose either individualism or humble submission. There is no way around it and no loopholes.

Consider how the options might look today:

The Individualistic/Self-Centered Option

  • “Be true to yourself.”
  • “Take charge and follow your dreams.”
  • “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it.”
  • “Be who you are and say what you feel.”

The Submissive Option

  • “My identity is founded in Christ and he is my solid rock.”
  • “Father, lead me down the path that you would have me to go down and help me to bring you glory in all things.”
  • “I belong both body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. (Heidelberg Catechism)”
  • “God, everything that I am and everything that I have is yours to control.”

I know I’m painting with broad strokes, but my hope is to show that we all must enter into our own type of Gethsemane-like situation and make a decision. The submissive option is not the easy choice to make in 21st century America. It’s counter-cultural. However, we must never forget that we have a perfect Savior who modeled Gethsemane for us. Not only did Jesus show us the right path to take (Heb. 12:2), but he also took the darkest path for us so that we could have fellowship with his Father in Heaven.

In the age of autonomy, submission might seem difficult. Nevertheless, the gospel of Jesus Christ calls us forth into Gethsemane and demands a decision to be made We can choose to submit or decide to make our own path. The choice is ours. May we be a people that follows the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Matt Manry is the Assistant Pastor at Life Bible Church in Canton, Georgia. He is a student at Reformed Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary. He also works on the editorial team for Credo Magazine and Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He blogs regularly at matthewwmanry.com.

Grounded on the Rock

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. and everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat agains that house, and it fell, and great was the all of it.” — Matthew 7:24-27

Have you ever experienced vertigo? I am fearful of heights, so I expect to feel some sort of disorientation whenever confronted with this fear. On several occasions I’ve lost my bearings and felt dizzy and didn’t know why. It came out of nowhere. It’s a weird feeling—you lose all sense of control, oftentimes wanting to lay down, but even then solace cannot be found. Sometimes people with vertigo live in a perpetual state of dizziness and motion sickness. I’m married to one. It’s not fun. Even my wife’s own driving can make her feel sick at times.

Sin is like vertigo: it disorients your life in such a way that you lose your sense of grounding. When the foundation of our lives moves away from being the Word of God—idols and false identities gladly take its place. We begin to lose control (and even that makes us frustrated). Our perception of people and the world around us begins to shift, thus causing us to misjudge and make assumptions. We fail to see things clearly. Sin is not just a transgression of God’s Law, it’s a redefining of it. Sin flips our world upside down.

Staying Grounded

In the book of Matthew, these themes of rocks, buildings, and foundations develop underneath the plot. Back in chapter four, Jesus stayed firm on the rock of God’s Word when put to the test by Satan. Instead of caving to Satan’s wishes and circumventing the will of God, Jesus remained steadfast in his commitment to the Father. Here in Matthew 7, Jesus shares a story, contrasting what life is like when you are anchored in him, and what life is like when you’re a fool. The difference isn’t the house, but rather the foundation underneath it. Either the house will be built on a foundation that can withstand the onslaught of storms, or it will be built on sand which shifts around making things unstable, leading to an inevitable disaster.

What many tend to forget is that this theme of “rock” returns in chapter sixteen when Peter makes a profound confession as to the identity of Jesus. While others continue to perpetuate misunderstanding by failing to see Jesus for who he really is, Peter gets it right. Rocky, which was Peter’s nickname, confesses that there is a solid foundation, and his name is Jesus.

While many different expositors argue over what this “rock” is—is it Jesus? Peter? His confession?—I tend to believe the answer is, “Yes” to all of these. It is Peter and his apostles in a sense (Eph. 2:20), and it has everything to do with Peter’s confession (because what basic truth is more foundational than the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God?). But it also has everything to do with Jesus himself who is, in fact, the cornerstone (Matt. 21:42; 1 Pt. 2:1-8), which is what “Rocky” confesses.

Exegetical debate and arguments aside, the fact remains: The Word of God, which gives testimony to the truth of Jesus’ identity, is the foundation that holds the Church in place. The Temple was built with large rocks on a large mountain in Jerusalem. And yet here is the true Temple, the fullness of God dwelling with man, walking among a people whose lives are built on sand. Jesus came to change the foundation so we could stay grounded.

What does it look like to be grounded?

If we as disciples who make disciple-making disciples wish to continue the ministry of being grounded in Christ—anchored deep within the gospel—we must commit ourselves to communion with God through various means. Here are some of those means:

  • The Word of God and Prayer — This commitment is nothing new. It’s the tried and true practice that the apostles taught was of utmost importance (Acts 6:4). The question we must wrestle with is not, “Will you build a foundation?” but rather, “Which foundation will you build?” All men everywhere have a foundation, and either it is built upon the Word of God and prayer, or it is built on something else. To be grounded in Christ—to build one’s house upon the rock—is to commune with God through these two things. When we commit to the Word of God, we are committed to storing up God’s Word in our hearts so we refrain from sin (Ps. 119:11). When we spend time in prayer, we are utilizing the Spirit’s means to communing with God. These two things go together to form a heavy anchor that can keep you grounded when the storm comes.
  • The Local Assembly — Solo Christianity is no way to build your house, nor is it a way to be an active part of The House (the Church). In fact, it is impossible. There is no such thing as solo Christianity. Which also means that one of the largest idols in America—independence—must be shattered and laid waste. Is it hard? Yes. Is it messy? You bet. Is it necessary? Absolutely. To be grounded in Christ, anchored deep within the gospel, is to be a part of his family. After all, your adoption wasn’t just to salvation—it was to the Church! And the Church welcomes you with open arms. The local assembly is a non-negotiable. I was told recently by someone whose been gone all summer camping (welcome to Michigan), “We’re having marriage issues, maybe it’s because we’ve not been in church much.” Bingo. Truthfully, that’s not the reason—there are plenty of them! But this could be one of them. When severed from the body, the hand doesn’t last long. Commune with God by communing with his people.
  • Confession — To be grounded in Christ is to make constant confession. Peter gave his confession that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of the living God, and that confession, though admittedly still fuzzy to some degree, mattered most. We are confessional What I mean is, in order to be a Christian, you have to make this same confession that Peter made.

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” —Romans 10:9-11

The key is knowing that this confession is perpetual in nature. We are always confessing this. We are always wanting to commune with God. How do we do it? How do we keep that foundation healthy? Confess. Often.

  • Gospel-Centrality —Gospel-centrality is not a fad, nor is it a cute tagline. After all, the gospel is of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). That’s what we mean by “centrality”—the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of God’s story climaxing in the person and work of Jesus, is first. It must be the It is never, “Will something be central in your life,” but rather, “What will be central?” For the person who wishes to stay grounded and commune with God in a real, passionate way, the gospel must be central.

Back to the vertigo. The reason our lives get out of whack and we fall into disorientation is because we aren’t grounded in the gospel. Like a boat tossed about without an anchor to be found, so is the man whose life has no anchor in Christ. Show me a person who is committed to these four aforementioned things, and I’ll show you a person whose life is built on the rock of Christ. There simply is no greater foundation for your house.

The next time you are feeling out of whack (e.g., you are impatient, you lack compassion, you can’t seem to forgive, or you struggle with bitterness and a sharp tongue), remember that your disorientation is a sure sign that the foundation is weak. This type of life is utter foolishness. The wind will come and destroy your house and nothing will be left. But to the person who commits his way to God (Prov. 3:5-6), your life will be sustained, not because you are clever and wise in and of yourself, but because you have communed with God in Christ, the rock of our salvation.

Rev. Jason M. Garwood (M.Div., Th.D.) serves as Lead Pastor of Colwood Church in Caro, MI and author of Be Holy and The Fight for Joy. Jason and his wife Mary have three children, Elijah, Avery and Nathan. He blogs at www.jasongarwood.com. Connect with him on Twitter: @jasongarwood.

A New Covenant Meal for Mission

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As we drive along the San Francisco Bay, the sunlight fights the pressing fog. When the city diminishes in the rearview, the fog slowly disappears. Sunlight at last. We skirt Sacramento then travel through unpopulated fields with soaring windmills beating like a metronome. We always knew we were getting close to Auburn, my mother’s hometown, when we left the fields and entered the ravine passing under the Foresthill Bridge. It soars over 700 feet. We make our way through town until we enter my grandma’s neighborhood. We crest the hill and below sits her small home situated comfortably in the right corner of the cul-da-sac. The two-hour drive feels like forever as a kid (now two hours seems like a short day trip), but all that mattered is that we arrived at grandma’s house.

We always loved to go there. In her front yard towered a maple tree with broad leaves. The tree reminds me of my grandmother who planted her family in Auburn and kept everyone together and rooted. She was a short but tough Hispanic immigrant who raised eight children in a small home and kept the family together when her husband died shortly after my birth in 1983. She provided everything the family needed. This was never more tangible than when she gathered her family around the table for a meal.

The Food Memory of a Family Meal

In her kitchen, she was in charge like a French chef in his Michelin starred restaurant. She loved you no doubt. You could feel it in the food. No one spends that much time preparing food that good if they don’t love you, but she wouldn't hesitate to bark orders or snap if you were trying to sneak a quick bite: “Out! Out! Out! Get out of my kitchen. It’s not ready.”

Not ready? If you could successfully get a bite of whatever was cooking on the stove it was like finding gold in the ravine. The only exception to that rule for me was when she made tripe. It “perfumed” the entire house and kept me out of the kitchen.

Inevitably during our stay, the entire family was invited to grandma’s. Late afternoon around the end of the work day family slowly started to arrive—first her children and grandchildren who lived within walking distances then the family who drove. If she cooked it, they would come. The women helped her set the table with food and plates and the men would sit outside with a cold beer watching the kids play under the maple tree. If it was summer, there might be a pool out front under the tree. It was the best of times.

These meals were like a family Eucharist and my grandmother was the priest blessing the wine and breaking the bread. We all waited patiently for our portion, our blessing. These meals were her way of keeping the family together and also her way of loving us. It was a tangible sign that you were in the family and that you were loved. You would be cared for. You belonged.

My grandmother passed away when I was in junior high, but my mother continues to make the Hispanic comfort foods her mother made. Just the smell coming from the kitchen as grandma’s roasted chile sauce simmers on the oven makes me feel safe and loved. This is where I belong. This is family.

A Meal of Grace

In the Gospel of Matthew, the apostle reports:

26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”

When I was young so much was made of not eating unworthily (a serious admonition of Paul no doubt) that I ate the Lord’s Supper like you might eat something you suspected was poisoned. Or how a young child might eat broccoli—hesitantly, face gnarled, knuckles white. These negative experiences branded my memory.

When the Lord commands the original Passover, he does so to create this type of ingrained memory for his people. The Passover was a tangible assault on the senses of the church. It recalled how God led them out of Egypt. How he spoiled the Egyptians for them. How he parted the Red Sea. How he redeemed them from slavery. In his wisdom, he did this by sitting families down around a table where all their senses were engaged in what was around them. If they obeyed the Lord, they would experience this every year for the rest of their life. I bet just the smell of the lamb cooking would invoke strong feelings of hope and love and mercy.

Sadly, Israel didn’t obey and didn’t keep the Passover every year. This was to their harm. It made their families fragile and vulnerable to worshipping other gods. They didn’t know the story of redemption, and so they didn’t know who they were or who their God was.

As Jesus arrives on the scene, he starts doing things that echo the stories of the Old Testament that tie into the story of redemption. He frees slaves from the bondage of sin. He heals the sick. He casts out demons. Jesus wilderness testing mirrors Israel’s own testing in the wilderness except where they failed he succeeds. How Jesus lives is intentional. He takes the threads of this old story of redemption and weaves his own life into the very fabric of the story. He shows everyone who watches that his life, death, resurrection, and ascension are a second Exodus, the greater story of redemption.

So is it any wonder that when our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ sets up his Passover that he does so around the table? He engages the senses. He pours out the good wine and breaks fresh bread. Have you ever been in the kitchen when the fresh bread comes right out of the oven? Have you ever cracked the crust and felt the warm air inside the bread hit your face? If you have, you won’t forget it. When Jesus calls us to his table, he calls us to remember while giving us something tangible and arresting that points us to a greater reality.

We must never forget that the Lord’s Supper is a place for sinners to receive something tangible. Are you harboring unrepentant sin in your heart? There’s no better place to repentant than the table. The table is one of grace and mercy and forgiveness Are you suffering or in pain or depressed? There’s no better place to find healing than the table. Are seeking Jesus Christ? Put your faith in him, be baptized, and eat freely at his table. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Enter his presence.

The Presence of God for Mission

My pastor Brian Habig made an interesting point about the Lord’s Supper in a sermon earlier this year. In the Old Testament, if you mishandled the ark of the covenant, the very presence of God among his people, you would be killed. As Matthew told us earlier, Jesus says the bread and wine are his body and blood. Paul later stresses the seriousness of eating unworthily with the threat of death. When we partake of the Eucharist, we experience the very presence of God. The body of our Lord sits in heaven ruling but through our union with Christ and the Spirit we now meet in the presence of the Lord to sense his love for us. With every drink and bite, we eat spiritually the body and blood of our Savior as John Calvin described it. This eating is a result of our faith and points to the true body and blood of Christ which was poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins.

As we approach the table, our hearts should leap for joy as the eating and drinking itself creates in us an instinctual and tangible impression of the gospel for us. This joy is what I experienced every time my family gathered around my grandma’s table—I knew I belonged. The Eucharist should also remind us of Christ’s promise—“I will be with you always” (Matt. 28:20). We are re-fueled for mission in the very presence of God at his table. When the Lord commands the original Passover, he does so to create this type of ingrained memory for his people.


Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household GospelWe Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for WorshipA Guide for AdventMake, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com!

The Prophet Greater Than Moses

Words have no meaning apart from structure. Thus, the way in which we arrange our words are just as important as the words we use. The Gospel of Matthew illustrates this perfectly. The life and teachings of Jesus are intentionally pieced together in such a way that you are forced to consider who Jesus is and how he has come in fulfillment of Old Testament expectations. You immediately recognize that Jesus is the Son of David who will sit on the eternal throne (2 Sam. 7:12-16), he is the promised offspring of Abraham who will bless the nations (Gen. 12:1-3), and he is the prophet greater than Moses who will speak the words of God (Deut. 18:15-19). The first two are clearly stated in Matthew 1, but the latter is only evident when you pay attention to meticulous structuring of Matthew’s book. As you examine the narrative structure you soon discover that Jesus is the figure prophesied about by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15,

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—”

Matthew wants you to understand that Jesus is indeed the prophet like Moses sent by God to speak the truth, enact a new exodus, and set you free. By writing in the manner that he does Matthew leaves no ambiguity as to what the implication of this is for your life— you must listen to Jesus.

The Same As Moses . . .

Consider the similarities presented between Moses and Jesus. Jesus is sent by God to deliver his people (Matt. 1:21), pursued as an infant by a murderous serpent-like king (Matt. 2:16), and spared in Egypt through providential means (Matt. 2:13). Next Jesus comes out of Egypt, enters the wilderness for forty days of testing (Matt. 4:1-11), and then goes up on a mountain to deliver a new law (Matt. 5:1-7:27). Matthew also tells us that Jesus is known to miraculously feed large crowds of people in desolate, wilderness-like places (Matt. 14:13-21) and is spotted by his disciples on a mountain with his face shining like the sun (Matt. 17:1-8). Sound familiar?

If you’ve read the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures) you know this echoes Moses’ story almost exactly. Matthew, in the way he structures his narrative, is going to great lengths to show you that Jesus has come as the new Moses. Like Moses, Jesus came up out of Egypt, passed through the waters of baptism, entered the wilderness, and went up onto a mountain to give a new, authoritative teaching. As you note the parallels you realize that Jesus could be none other than the long-anticipated prophet.

. . . But Different Than Moses

Yet, as you read Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus is a new and greater Moses. There’s a different quality to his person and work which supersedes that of Moses’:

  • Whereas Moses was sent to deliver the nation of Israel out of physical slavery in Egypt, Jesus was sent to deliver people from all nations out of spiritual slavery to sin in their hearts (Matt. 1:21).
  • Whereas Moses only spoke the words he received from God, Jesus came as the very Word of God who declared, “I say to you” (Matt. 5:21-22ff) and it simply was God’s words.
  • Whereas Moses came as a recipient of the Law, Jesus came to fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17).
  • Whereas Moses’ face shone with the reflection of the heavenly glory he had seen, Jesus’ shone like the sun with his own divine glory (Matt. 17:2).
  • Whereas Moses mediated temporarily between God and man by the Law, Jesus mediates eternally between God and man by the shedding of his own blood (Matt. 27:51).

Jesus is truly the prophet greater than Moses. He is the new authoritative teacher who came to give us divine teaching, save us from our sins, enact a new exodus out of spiritual bondage, and establish a new and superior covenant between God and his people. The Gospel of Matthew is written in such a way to say, “Behold, your long-awaited prophet has arrived!”What are we supposed to do when that prophet comes? “You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you” (Acts 3:22).

Listening to Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew

Matthew immediately establishes who Jesus is through the structure of his book because he is going to fill the remainder of it with Jesus’ teachings and call you to unequivocally listen to him. “Listen” here isn’t merely hearing his words. It’s the kind of listening which hears, receives, and obeys the words spoken. It’s the quality of listening that transforms Jesus’ hearers into obedient disciples.

It’s imperative we understand the Moses-Jesus relationship and the command to listen to that prophet (Deut. 18:15; Matt. 17:5; Acts 3:22) because Jesus is going to say some radical words in the book of Matthew. He’s going to say the kind of things that “get all up in your business.” As a matter of fact, when Jesus arrives on the scene, he is going to give such countercultural and counterintuitive teachings that any would-be disciple might think twice about following him:

He’s going to teach that lust is the same as adultery (Matt. 5:27-30). He’s going to tell you not to be anxious about what you will eat or what you will drink or what you will wear (Matt. 6:25). He’s going to say that whoever loves father or mother or son or daughter more than him is not worthy of him (Matt. 10:37). He’s going to tell you that you must deny yourself and take up your cross if you desire to follow him (Matt. 16:24). He’s going to affirm that God designed marriage between one male and one female (Matt. 19:4-6). He’s even going to command you to join his mission by making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).

Now would be a good time to honestly ask yourself, “Am I listening to Jesus?” Are you listening to his teachings with a soft heart that seeks the understanding of the Spirit and calls upon his power to help you obey? Or, perhaps more importantly, ask yourself, “Do I actually want to receive his words?” This is no small matter. You either accept the words from the prophet greater than Moses and experience life in them through his Spirit or reject him and his words and suffer eternal punishment.

As we read Matthew together this month, let’s invite the Spirit of God and the community of Christ to help us hear and obey the teachings of Jesus in such a way that his Word transforms us. May our time in Matthew strengthen our commitment to the prophet greater than Moses who has the authority to speak the Word of God into our lives and possesses the power to set our hearts free.

Whitney Woollard has served in ministry alongside her husband Neal for over six years. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and just finished her Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She is passionate about equipping disciples to read and study God’s Word well resulting in maturing affections for Jesus and his gospel message. Neal and Whitney currently live in Portland, OR where they love serving the local church. Follow her on Twitter @whitneywoollard.

3 Ways to Defeat Demonic Opposition

Have you ever stopped to wonder why life actually seems harder as a Christian? Perhaps you were baptized under the assumption that life would be easier as a Jesus-follower only to discover shortly thereafter it can be more difficult. Gone are the days of ease and carefree living; now you wrestle with an ongoing struggle of sorts. You experience unexplainable opposition, feel mounting pressure, and even “hear” an inner accuser that’s not like you. You just can’t shake the notion that ever since you chose to follow Jesus everything seems “off.”

Welcome to the War

It may be the tension you’re experiencing is demonic opposition. When you became a disciple of Jesus, you also became an enemy of Satan. You have a very real and very evil enemy who is out to devour you (1 Pt. 5:8). Even now there are demonic forces seeking to destroy your love for Jesus, your life, and your peace in him. They tempt you to doubt your identity in Christ and your assurance in God’s purposes, but they will not prevail. You can defeat this opposition by identifying with Christ in his victory over Satan and following his example in refuting demonic lies.

Jesus shows us in Matthew 4:1-11 (also see Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13) that discipleship 101 is learning how to overcome the enemy. This passage tells of an experience Jesus had alone in the wilderness when confronted by the devil. It’s unique among all other stories found in the synoptic Gospels in that we only have it because Jesus chose to recount it to his disciples (every other account comes from eyewitnesses).

Jesus saw this experience as so essential to his messianic ministry and the maturation of his disciples that he wanted his disciples to memorize and testify to it. They needed to know what he went through and how he came out victorious because they too would one day experience demonic opposition in the war against evil. This means if you’re a disciple of Jesus, Jesus thinks you need this story.

Peeling Back the Layers: How to Understand Matthew 4:1-11

Read Matthew 4:1-11 in its entirety to get reacquainted with the text. As you read, note the following points:

Context—It is crucially placed (also in Mark and Luke) between the baptismal revelation of Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 3:13-17) and the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (Matt. 4:12-17). Evidently, confronting evil is the first priority on the Messiah’s “to-do” list before he enters the public arena.

Translation—The English rendering of “tempted” doesn’t capture the full breadth of the Greek verb peirazo. Often in Scripture it means “to test,” specifically in order to reveal truth. Jesus is indeed being tempted by the devil to act against God’s will, but he’s also being tested by God to reveal what’s in his heart. In some mysterious fashion, satanic tempting and divine testing work in concert together.

Purpose—Even though this was Jesus’ first significant battle with evil and his circumstances seem horrific, all three Gospel writers go out of their way to make it clear that the whole event took place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 4:1; Mk. 1:12; Lk. 4:1). This experience, though excruciatingly painful, was happening according to the sovereign purpose of God. 

Summary—At its heart, this story is intended to be an obvious recapitulation of Israel’s forty years of testing in the wilderness as God’s chosen Son who was to fulfill a divine calling (being a blessing to all the nations). The lessons Israel should have learned but failed to grasp were to depend on God’s Word rather than bread (Deut. 8:3), not to put God to the test (Deut. 6:16), and to make God the sole object of their worship (Deut. 6:13). It’s not random then that these are the exact three tests that we see in Jesus’ wilderness temptations!

In the same way, Yahweh led Israel into the wilderness to test their hearts to reveal the truth about their obedience and devotion to him (Deut. 8:2), so now another “Son of God” is being led into the wilderness for forty days to be tested by God and tempted by Satan in preparation for his divine calling. Will Jesus, as the beloved Son of God, fully obey the will of the Father or will he fail to overcome evil as every other son of God failed before him (think Adam in the garden, Israel in the wilderness, and even you today)?

Jesus Is Our Christus Victor: Identifying In Jesus’ Victory Over Satan

The history of failure and flawed fulfillment in Adam and Israel add to our own experience of failure and disobedience. These failures might make us skeptical regarding the Messiah’s odds of success. However, Matthew 4:1-11 portrays Jesus facing the tests we’ve all failed and being tempted where we’ve all conceded but, surprisingly, he doesn’t fail or compromise. Where we as humans have all stumbled and fallen, Jesus the true human resists and stands firm!

Look at Jesus’ Spirit-led response to satanic attack:

  • When Jesus is tempted to doubt his identity as the beloved Son of God while suffering the hell of hunger (Matt. 4:3), he looks at the tempter and quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 (Matt. 4:4). He essentially says, “This does not define me. The words spoken by my Father, whom I trust with my life, define me. My love and loyalty to the Father is more real to me than my current condition, no matter how painful it is.”
  • When Jesus is tempted to test the Father’s love and commitment to him as a means of proving his affection to the Son (Matt. 4:5-6), he looks at the tempter and quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 (Matt. 4:7). It’s as if he’s saying, “I will not test the Father and put him in my service. That’s not how this relationship works. I will trust my Father’s love and commitment to me regardless of my circumstances.”
  • When Jesus is tempted to obtain the kingdoms of the world by taking a path other than that ordained by the Father (Matt. 4:8-9), he looks at the tempter and says, “Be gone, Satan!” and quotes Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” This temptation is compromising the very heart of who Jesus is and what he came to do . . . and it infuriates him. He knows one day he will reign as King over all the world but the means by which he will do so has already been determined by the Father—it’s the path of the cross. He will worship and obey God even to the cross.

If you are in Christ, this story is good news! Jesus passed divine testing and defeated satanic tempting on your behalf—he is truly your Christus Victor. His representation of you didn’t begin on the cross, but in the wilderness. Here we witness Jesus defeating evil and showing himself to be the true Adam, the true Israel, the true Son of God, and the true human on your behalf.

The first step in defeating demonic opposition is knowing you have obtained victory over the enemy. Although you have repetitively failed divine testing and succumbed to demonic temptation, through your union with Christ, it’s as if you fully succeeded. You are declared the perfect son of God because of Jesus’ victory for you (first in the wilderness and then on the cross).

The outcome of the war you’re waging against demonic opposition has been determined for you by the true human, Jesus Christ. Be confident in battle, knowing that Satan and his demons are defeated. Because of Jesus you are victorious even when you feel defeated. The battles you are fighting today and the lies you are hearing from the enemy are not definitive of who you are. Your identity as a Christian is the same as Jesus’—victorious son of God.

Jesus Is Our Great Exemplar: Following Jesus’ Pattern to Defeat Demons

The war has been won but, until Jesus’ second coming, we still have battles to fight. Recognizing Christ’s victory over evil on our behalf is the first step in defeating demonic opposition. The second is following his example.

As noted above, Jesus thought his disciples needed to know this story because in it he modeled how to counter demonic attack. He quoted Scripture out loud, told Satan to be gone, and then allowed angels to strengthen him. This is an example for all Jesus-followers today: Quote Scripture out loud (in it’s proper context of course!), tell the demons to be gone, and then do something that strengthens you spiritually (worship, Bible reading, prayer, etc.).

Jesus’ particular temptations are a good place to make parallel applications for your life.

  • When tempted to doubt your identity as the beloved child of God amidst your circumstances, quote Scripture out loud and affirm that your suffering, your insecurity, or your sin does not define you. The word of God, particularly as its expressed through the gospel, defines you. Your love and loyalty to the Father are more real and defining than your current situation, no matter how painful.
  • When tempted to test the Father’s love and commitment to you, demanding he give you a sign of his affection, quote Scripture out loud and affirm that through Christ you have absolute assurance of God’s love for you. You know he is committed to you because he left the glories of heaven to come and die for you. The gospel leaves no room to doubt God’s affection for you.
  • When tempted to take another path other than the one God has determined for you, quote Scripture out loud and affirm that you will trust the Father’s plan and purposes for your life even if they include suffering. Tell the harassing demonic voice to “be gone!” Reaffirm that God is the exclusive object of your worship regardless of what lies ahead.

This may not always be easy, but it is straightforward—we simply follow Jesus’ example. It doesn’t have to be weird or scary and it’s certainly not reserved for the spiritual giants. Learning to do spiritual warfare is basic discipleship. Allow me to illustrate this from my life.

Recently, I’ve experienced the worst and most frequent migraines I’ve ever had. The pain is isolating, frustrating, and defeating. While lying in excruciating pain in a darkened room I’ve heard (in my mind, not audible) an old familiar voice say, “If you are a son of God why do you have to suffer? If God really loved you shouldn’t he prove his affection by healing you?” Christian, that’s demonic. That’s not my voice nor God’s, it’s the voice of an enemy seeking to devour me while I’m vulnerable by tempting me to doubt my identity as a beloved child of God.

Although it would have been easy to test God, to “make” him prove his love through my healing, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jesus in the wilderness. There he was literally starving to death, yet he was unwilling to exercise his power to obtain food or test God because he trusted the Father fully. He trusted the Father on my behalf even as my own trust failed. And so, in my pain, I followed Jesus’ example and spoke out loud,

“My circumstances, no matter how painful, do not define me. God’s Word defines me. I am a child of God and his love and commitment to me is eternally certain because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I refuse to put my Father to the test. Be gone! I will only worship and serve God, even now in my pain.”

Afterwards I continued to rest and pray as I rode out the migraine with a newfound sense of confidence in God’s goodness. There was nothing weird or magical about it. I simply identified in Jesus’ victory then followed his example in the power of the Spirit to the glory of God.

Don’t allow demonic opposition to destroy your joy and peace in Christ. Learn to recognize voices that aren’t from the Spirit of God and then speak out God’s truth. Grow in your discipleship by daily identifying with Christ in his victory over evil and following his example in refuting lies.

Whitney Woollard has served in ministry alongside her husband Neal for over six years. She holds an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies from Moody Bible Institute and just finished her Master of Arts in Biblical and Theological Studies from Western Seminary. She is passionate about equipping disciples to read and study God’s Word well resulting in maturing affections for Jesus and his gospel message. Neal and Whitney currently live in Portland, OR where they love serving the local church. Follow her on Twitter @whitneywoollard.

The Gospel of Matthew Reading Plan

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We’ve launched a series on The Gospel of Matthew for the month of August. Brad Watson, our executive director, encouraged our readers to read a chapter a day in the Gospel of Matthew. To help jumpstart your reading, we want to share our reading plan (below) and this helpful resource from the folks at The Bible Project (@JoinBibleProj):

  • Mon, August 3rd—Mathew 1
  • Tues, August 4th—Mathew 2
  • Wed, August 5th—Matthew 3
  • Thurs, August 6th—Matthew 4
  • Fri, August 7th—Matthew 5
  • Sat, August 8th—Matthew 6
  • Sun, August 9th—Matthew 7
  • Mon, August 10th—Matthew 8
  • Tues, August 11th—Matthew 9
  • Wed, August 12th—Matthew 10
  • Thurs, August 13th—Matthew 11
  • Fri, August 14th—Matthew 12
  • Sat, August 15th—Matthew 13
  • Sun, August 16th—Matthew 14
  • Mon, August 17th—Matthew 15
  • Tues, August 18th—Matthew 16
  • Wed, August 19th—Matthew 17
  • Thurs, August 20th—Matthew 18
  • Fri, August 21st—Matthew 19
  • Sat, August 22nd—Matthew 20
  • Sun, August 23rd—Matthew 21
  • Mon, August 24th—Matthew 22
  • Tues, August 25th—Matthew 23
  • Wed, August 26th—Matthew 24
  • Thurs, August 27th—Matthew 25
  • Fri, August 28th—Matthew 26
  • Sat, August 29th—Matthew 27
  • Sun, August 30th—Matthew 28

As Brad encouraged:

Read the Gospel of Matthew. One of the reasons Jesus’ life ends up feeling like a random collection of anecdotes and one liners is we rarely read through it all together. We may have done so in our early days of faith but have since neglected it. We invite you to spend August reading the Gospel of Matthew. Read a chapter a day. As you read, contemplate the passage. Here are some helpful questions:

  • What is Jesus saying or doing?
  • What does that say about his character?
  • How are people reacting to him? How does that expose your reaction to Jesus? How would your friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus respond to this?
  • How is Jesus proving to be the true humanity? The true Prophet? The true Priest? The true King?
  • What is most challenging about Jesus?

Pray the Gospel of Mathew. Practice Lectio Divina, Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.


Mathew B. Sims is the Editor-in-Chief at Exercise.com and has authored, edited, and contributed to several books including A Household GospelWe Believe: Creeds, Confessions, & Catechisms for WorshipA Guide for AdventMake, Mature, Multiply, and A Guide for Holy Week. Mathew, LeAnn (his wife), and his daughters Claire, Maddy, and Adele live in Taylors, SC at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains with their Airdale Terrier. They attend Downtown Presbyterian Church (PCA). Visit MathewBryanSims.com