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Tempted: Matthew 4

In Summary:

Returning to the Through the Whole Bible project!

Matthew 4 follows immediately after the conclusion of Matthew 3—the other Gospel accounts help verify that immediately after Jesus is baptized, He heads out into the wilderness. Matthew presents that the purpose of the wilderness days is to be tempted, while Mark and Luke record the temptation as the primary event, though not as the sole intent.

Finishing the temptations, Jesus begins His ministry by two clear acts. The first is to preach (4:17) in the Galilee region. The second is to gather a small group of disciples (4:18-22). These setup the large crowds that come for hearing and healing in the last segment in Matthew 4:23-25. We should see here a pattern worth exploring. 

Ministry should pattern like this: 1. Public declaration of faith. Jesus does not declare His faith, since it’s faith in Him we need, but we see the public acclamation through baptism. 2. Private, definite demonstration of commitment. The temptation period was a clear opportunity to turn from the call. While those in ministry (and by and large, all believers) should not be required to live out a public temptation, there should be a clear time that we are able to look back and say “Yes, I could have become otherwise, but this is what I chose.” 3. Public proclamation of the Word of God. Jesus does this in Nazareth and then moves on to Capernaum (see Luke 4:16ff for His first recorded sermon and the results). Ministry is about the Word, in word and deed. 4. Personal investment in others. While in Jesus, it’s basically one-sided as He didn’t really need help, He chose to involve the disciples anyway. Those of us who are only human should take the step of developing the relationships that will strengthen us and will see us strengthen others—and the accountability will not hurt, either. 

Finally, we see whether or not crowds come in response. Why? Because our stability should come from those first four items. The crowds come and the crowds go, but our relationships sustain us. The Word of God is the center of ministry for God and to others; we alone should know before God everything that set us on this path. And nothing begins without that initiated relationship through the blood of Christ, faith that came by hearing and the life brought by the Spirit.

In Focus:

Take time to focus on all three temptations at the head of the chapter. Satan (not STAN!) throws against Jesus these three concerns: everyday survival, crisis survival, and success. Seriously, those are the three: food, medical emergency (you think jumping off the Temple wouldn’t cause a medical emergency?) and drawing the crowds and kingdoms.

The perfect response to all of these? Dependence on God to provide. To provide for the basic needs of life (4:4). To provide protection in the necessary times (4:7). To provide the right focus of service (4:10). These alone matter, and are supplied for our knowledge in the Word of God.

In Practice:

What does this look like practically? Here is the short form: know the Word of God, and do not resort to bizarre or questionable means to accomplish the basics of life. You know you need to eat, so take the ordinary means God has provided for that need rather than mumbo-jumbo or conjuring tricks. You are going to serve something in life—so make it the right One to serve. Whatever the temptation, remember to bring it back to the Word of God and see what it is that God has to say about that temptation. 

In Nerdiness:  

Note that Satan himself uses Scripture in Matthew 4:6. Just because a verse says it, doesn’t mean you should do it. 

In more nerdy fashion, Luke 4 puts the Temple Temptation (throw yourself off!) last, while Matthew here places that one second, and the temptation to worship Satan last. This is probably the clearest place to find the Synoptic Problem, which is the term for “What do we do when it’s obvious multiple Gospel writers are writing about the same thing but give slightly conflicting reports?” After all, either Jesus was tempted to throw himself off the Temple 2nd or 3rd, but not both. One can find a couple of possible responses.

First is that Matthew and Luke do not record enough chronological markers to tell us which temptation came when. That’s all well and good, but they read to us like they go in order. The second possible response is that one is right and the other is wrong. Theologically, I side with the first response. 

How would I support that? Look at Mark’s summary in Mark 1:13, Luke’s conclusion in Luke 4:13, and Matthew’s final words in Matthew 4:11. Mark just highlights temptations, Luke does not limit the temptations to three, and Matthew closes out the temptation with Jesus’ commitment to the sole worship of God. We have to understand that accuracy in 1st century meant that the events happened, and that *if* a definite chronology is used, it is accurate. Otherwise, an event that stands out will be moved to the point of prominence that is in context with its author’s primary point.

Luke places Jesus’ refutation of Satan’s use of Scripture at the pinnacle of the moment. Matthew places the worship of God as foremost—both serve the further points of their writing.


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