Today’s Reading: Matthew Chapter 4
Chapter 4, in a nutshell, tells of Jesus’ temptation, the beginning of his ministry, and the calling of his first disciples.
After his baptism, Jesus is “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”. That phrase throws me for a loop. It doesn’t say that the Spirit led him someplace to fast and grow closer to God (though I assume he used that 40 days to do just that) – it says he was led there to be tempted by the devil. The Spirit intentionally leads him out to a place specifically for the purpose of being tempted. He’s all alone in a situation where it is easy to be tempted – in the middle of nowhere, having eaten nothing for 40 days and 40 nights.
The devil, of course, takes advantage of the situation, as he always does. All alone, no support? Weak for any reason (in this case hunger)? Satan is always ready to use that situation to strike. While the wise thing for us would be to try and avoid a situation where we know we’d be tempted, this was why Jesus came to this place.
Hebrews stresses that what makes Jesus a superior high priest and perfect sacrifice is the fact that he was tempted just as we are, but without sin:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. – Hebrews 4:15
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:18
This was necessary for him to do, and his purpose for going into the wilderness. He kept the integrity of his ministry and mission intact, by facing just this situation and handling it as he did.
The first and second temptations are a challenge by Satan to Christ to prove he was who he says he was. Yes, the first temptation is in part a strike directly at the physical weakness Jesus is experiencing. He’s not eaten for 40 days and 40 nights, he’s hungry, so Satan tempts him to break his dedication to his fast and make bread to eat. But it’s more than that: if you are who you say you are, this should be easy for you to do. “Prove it”, says Satan.
Jesus turns to scripture for his defense. The scripture he quotes is from the speech Moses gave to the Israelites after their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, just before they entered the promised land – fitting for Jesus as he’s been in the wilderness for 40 days. Even more fitting is the verse choice. In Moses’ original speech, he reminds the Israelites of the time that they went hungry, but then God provided them with manna – he says that this was to teach them the lesson that it isn’t just food that sustains them, but God that sustains them – every word from God’s mouth sustains them. Jesus, hungry from his 40-day fast and tempted by the Devil, draws on this same lesson as he faces Satan.
For the second temptation, the devil displays some power, in whisking Jesus from the wilderness to the highest point of the temple, where he makes essentially the same challenge: prove you are who you say you are. He offers a twist, though: he can quote scripture too. He quotes a verse from the Psalms: if you are who you say you are, God will protect you from harm… throw yourself down and prove you are who you say you are.
Jesus quotes scripture back, from the same speech Moses gave, saying you shouldn’t test God. This is really scary – Satan knows the scripture, and he can and will use it as a strategy to tempt. Jesus knew scripture better, and knew that a verse used in a way that conflicts with other scripture is a verse that’s being twisted and misused. There’s a lesson there for us – we have to be well grounded in scripture, knowing all of it, or at least enough to recognize when a verse on its own is being misused by others or in our own minds to take us down the wrong path.
After failing in the first two attempts, Satan switches tactics. He whisks Jesus away to a high mountain and through an impressive display of power shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”… and offers to turn them over to Jesus if only he’ll fall down and worship Satan. Was this a deceptive promise? Perhaps. There had to be some grain of truth there for it to be a temptation, though.
Still, Jesus is still not to be had. In Moses’ same speech to the Israelites, he warned them of the dangers that would exist in the promised land, including the strange “gods” they worshiped, and how their God was a jealous God. They were only to worship and serve the one true God, no matter how attractive the foreign deities seemed to be and no matter what claims there followers made about their power. Jesus quotes Moses words as he tells Satan to “go away” – “you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve”.
Three temptations, and three consistent answers from Jesus – “it is written…”, “it is written…”, “it is written”. There is a lesson there for our defense in the face of temptation: know the word, turn to the word, wield the word to defeat Satan. It’s no wonder when Paul describes the “armor of God” in Ephesians – the things that we can use to “stand against the devil’s schemes” – that he describes our one and only weapon as being the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”.
The devil does flee at Jesus command, and Jesus leaves the wilderness. Learning that John has been arrested, he returns to Galilee and goes to Capernaum, fulfilling yet another Old Testament prophecy which Matthew reminds us of. He begins to preach the same thing John had: “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.
Matthew next describes the calling of four disciples, the ones that become Jesus’ inner circle – Peter, Andrew, James and John. At least one of them, Andrew, was a disciple of John the Baptist, and John may have been as well. Jesus speaks to them in a way they can understand – they’re fishermen, working their trade when they’re called. Jesus tells them to follow him, and he’ll make them “fishers of men”. Matthew goes out of his way to stress that each of the four men, having been called, immediately dropped what they were doing and followed him – leaving their nets behind (Peter and Andrew) and their father behind (James and John). They left their businesses, they left family, they immediately followed Jesus.
They got to see incredible things. Matthew closes chapter four describing those early days of Jesus’ ministry, as he moves all around Galilee. He describes three things Jesus was doing – teaching in the synagogues, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and healing every disease. Teaching, preaching, and healing. Really, this was about people, ministering to them, and taking care of their needs. He taught the ones that knew God, he preached to those that needed to know the good news, and he healed those who were hurting. Seems to be a great model for us as well – a focus on people and meeting their needs. Teaching, encouraging, strengthening those who know him. Preaching the good news of the Kingdom to those that don’t. Bringing healing to those that are hurting.
The people certainly responded. According to Matthew, Jesus’ fame spread all over the countryside and huge crowds from both near and far were following him and bringing their sick for healing.
I’ve already touched on some of the obvious applications for me from this passage. It is ripe with application:
- Temptation is real, and Satan is good at it. He uses our obvious weaknesses against us, he challenges us with more subtle attacks, he has power, and he knows and will twist scripture.
- Scripture is our best defense against him – we need to know it, and know it well. A great reason for why we need Project 51. While Satan is powerful, God is more powerful. Jesus was and is more powerful. God’s word is more powerful. Truly, when we resist him, he will flee.
- Like Jesus’ disciples, we need to respond to His calling – with the immediacy and completeness that they showed.
- We’re to be about what He was about. Our ministry should be the same as his ministry: teaching, encouraging, building up those that know Him, preaching the good news of the Kingdom to those that don’t, and bringing healing to those that are hurting.
“You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (verse 10)
“And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” (verse 23)