Reading for Thursday, June 14: Matthew 4
In the desert, Jesus experiences temptation. The imagery is familiar: the wilderness provided the context for Israel’s great temptation with idolatry during the Exodus. But where Israel fails, Jesus will succeed, relying on God’s Torah for sustenance.
Satan’s temptation is better read “Since you are the Son of God…”. The evil one surely recognizes the identity of Jesus, just as the demons will. Instead, what’s at stake is WHAT KIND of Messiah Jesus will be: a welfare king, a slick wonder-worker, an imperial ruler? To each of these, Jesus replies in the way of faith. His Messiahship will be characterized by faithfulness to God in all circumstances. At the conclusion of this temptation, God’s ministering servants come to Jesus as a source of refreshing.
After this temptation, Jesus begins his public ministry in Galilee. Matthew reminds us of Isaiah’s words, interpreted anew in the ministry of Christ: “A people living in darkness have seen a great light.” Jesus preaches Good News and the powers of hell recede in His wake. At that time, Matthew says, Jesus unfurls the central tenet of his teaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” (v17).
I think v17 is one of the most important passages in the NT. From this flows our understanding of Christ’s ministry. The miraculous signs that accompany Jesus are declarations that something is changing. The sick are healed, the demon-possessed are exorcised, the lame are restored. These represent God’s in-breaking Kingdom reign, foretastes of the glory to come. His teaching, especially the Sermon on the Mount, is best understood as a summons to repent as Jesus demonstrates the Way to True Life (John 14.6). This life of repentance is tangibly represented by his disciples, those who will leave fishing boats and tax collecting booths behind for the sake of this call. Matthew gives us these snapshots into the life of repentance, hoping that we, too, will respond in faith to the most challenging words in the Bible: “Come, follow me.”