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73 | How the worst chapter break in the Bible impacts your identity in Christ


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Hi, my name is Dean Smith and in this podcast, I want to talk about one of the worst chapter breaks in the Bible and how it has the potential to profoundly impact our relationship with God.

You may have never heard of Stephen Langton, but as a Christian you are very familiar with his work.

Langton was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury between 1207 and 1228 AD. About a year before he died, Langton created the chapter system used in the Old and New Testament. The verses were not added until nearly 200 years later.

Though these have proven hugely beneficial, some chapter divisions tear apart stories that were obviously intended to be together.

But before I criticize one of Langton’s chapter breaks, you first need to know a bit about Langton. Though relatively unknown, his work has had a profound impact on western society.

I would rank him among the top ten most influential Christians in the past 1,000 years or so, and most believers don’t even know who he is, myself included.

Because, in addition to creating the Bible’s chapter breaks, Langton played a major role in writing the Magna Carta which many believe is the most important political document ever written, because it started the journey from tyrants to democracies.

In a nutshell, the Magna Carta stated that all men are equal. That Kings are equally subject to the country’s laws, just like the lowliest of peasants.

The problem first started with Langton’s appointment as archbishop of Canterbury by the Pope, challenging earlier appointments by Britain’s King John. This challenge to King John’s authority ultimately led to a confrontation between King John and the Barons, who were opposed to King John’s arbitrary seizure of property and execution of people he didn’t like.

In addition, King John involved himself in several wars and wars need taxes to pay for them. If King John’s army needed horses, and you were riding by on one, too bad.

The conflict heated up when King John demanded that Langton give up Rochester Castle. Langton refused because it was an unlawful order. In other words, King John was not above the law of the land.

As the conflict heated up between the barons, who agreed with Langton, and the King of England, the Magna Carta was essentially the peace treaty reached between the king and the barons in 1215 avoiding a potential civil war.

It principally stated that everyone was subject to due process by law, that Kings could not execute or arrest anyone simply because they didn’t like them. Everyone needed their day in court. As well, King John could not just seize property when he needed cash, and it also guaranteed freedom of religion.

Though the treaty was eventually broken, the Magna Carta challenged the absolute authority of Kings. And Langton came to this conclusion that this was necessary from his study of the Bible where he believed that God did not want the world to be ruled by Kings, who, if they had unrestrained power would become tyrannical and oppressive.

The Magna Carta, that was one of the earliest political declarations on human rights, paved the way for our modern democracies.

So I have the upmost respect for Langton, as he faced down one or Britain’s more brutal monarchs, but as for the 1,189 chapters he created, I have issue with a few of them.

With that in mind, I want to discuss arguably the worst chapter breaks in the Bible.

By their very nature, chapter breaks indicate a new line of thought and this is the impression we get with the break between Matthew 3 and Matthew 4, as it puts a wedge between two incidents in Jesus life, that are intricately connected.

Let’s first discuss the incident that took place in Matthew chapter 4, where we have the record of Satan’s temptation of Jesus in the wilderness.

Satan threw three temptations at Christ, but I want to look at what I consider the most insidious.

In verse three, Satan challenged Jesus’s stating:

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Matthew 4:3 ESV

The attack was subtle, but it was also a trap.

Satan was asking Jesus to prove He was the Son of God by turning a rock into bread. In other words, it was miracles and power that would prove Christ’s identity as the Son of God.

So how did Jesus respond to Satan’s challenge?

The Lord simply replied:

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4 ESV)

Now over the years, people have customarily interpreted this to mean that God’s word, the Bible, is to be our food. We must look to the Bible for our nourishment and growth.

But this verse is not about food, it is about identity.

Because of Langton’s misplaced chapter break, we miss the critical point that Jesus was making.

While Satan was saying Christ needed to prove His Sonship through a power demonstration, Jesus countered this by saying His identity was based solely on what God said about Jesus.

So, had God previously said anything to Christ?

In fact, God had.

Three verses earlier, but in the previous chapter, God spoke to Jesus at his baptism, saying:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17 ESV

But because of the chapter break, these two stories seem like they are separated by miles, but obviously Matthew intended these two accounts, separated by just three verses, to be together.

Here is what Jesus was actually saying. The Lord stated that His identity was not based on what He did, but rather on who God said Jesus was.

Because Jesus chose to believe what God said about Him, the Lord did not need to prove His Sonship to Himself or anyone.

If Jesus’s identity was based on what He did, then Jesus would have been the Son of God at Bethany when He raised Lazarus from the dead in Luke 11, but not the Son of God in Nazareth, where Mark says He could not perform many miracles because of their unbelief (Mark 6:5).

In other words, Jesus was still the son of God whether He performed a miracle or not.

Had Christ got sucked in to defining His relationship with God by what He did, it was a roller coaster that Jesus could never get off. Because it would never be good enough, every week Satan would have a new challenge — well if you are the son of God now do this or this.

Years ago, I was worked for a pastor who was caught up in this. Every year the annual church camp needed to be better, more powerful, more anointed than the year previous. They weren’t, and frankly it didn’t matter if they were or not. But it mattered to the pastor because his identity was wrapped in what he accomplished. If the camp was a washout, then so was the pastor.

This put intense pressure on anyone who worked for him.

Unfortunately, this is how many Christians live our lives because we have not fully settled who we are in Christ.

One day we feel like a Christian and the next day we don’t. One day we feel accepted by God, the next day we don’t. Many times those feelings come and go because of what we have done. If we commit a sin, we are not a child of God. Have a pretty good day, then we are.

However, the Bible tells us that because of what Jesus did on the cross:

  • We are fully forgiven (Ephesians 1:7).
  • We are a child of God (John 1:12). We are anointed (1 John 2:20).
  • We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • We are co-heirs with Christ.

God is well-pleased with us every hour of every day not because of how we live, but based solely on Christ’s redeeming work.

The first thing that Jesus did before He started His public ministry was settle His identity in God, and this must be our top priority as well.

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