Matthew 4 Commentary
The temptations of Jesus followed the devil’s game plan. The first temptation appealed to lust and the devil tested Jesus’ heart to see if he could find any through his hunger. The daily needs of life are a primary target of the enemy. He uses our hunger, our fatigue and our thirst to tempt us to make foolish decisions when we become impatient, angry or afraid. He tempts into the sins that drive us from the submission we should have before God in all situations in order to find temporary relief.
Unlike Esau, Jesus overcame the temptation to sell his birthright to the devil for food. And he conquered the devil with the Word in such a way that it turned the devil’s temptation back onto him. “Man does not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” was the perfect response. Beyond our bodies that constantly groan for food and water is a God that demands our full devotion to him.
The second temptation looked for any pride in Jesus. Here the devil tried to get Jesus to prove himself in his own strength. He hoped to get Jesus to boast about his identity and his mission. And this is why he began the second like the first by saying:“If you are the Son of God…”
The devil tempted Jesus in the same way the devil tries to goad us to sin. He enticed Jesus to take matters into his own hands and try to prove his worth and goodness by his own power. But Jesus dismissed the devil again by using Scripture. He knew that throwing himself from the temple’s roof would not have been an act of reliance on his Father, but an act of defiance against his plan. It was not the time for Jesus to reveal himself to the world. Though the world certainly would have marveled at such a seemingly heroic and spectacular sign, it would have been lost if Jesus took glory for himself. With Jesus’ failure the devil would have had full reign over death and hell.
Again the devil hoped that he could catch Jesus in a moment of impatience as he suffered in hunger. He craftily built the second temptation on first. But Jesus resisted the temptation to glorify himself, and in overcoming this temptation. he turned the glory of this triumph to his Father in heaven.
The last temptation looked for any greed within Jesus’ heart. Depending on what his heart valued, this would have been the greatest temptation or the least. For what was the devil really offering Jesus by offering him the world? With bread there would be temporary relief, and with tossing himself off the temple there would have been the temporary praise from men, but in ruling the world there was nothing for him. If Jesus would have bowed the knee to Satan, he would have been under his control. The world would continue on in a state of hopeless moral decay to be destroyed by an estranged and angry Father. But the devil’s temptation was rooted in what Jesus would have avoided. He would have temporarily avoided his Father’s wrath on the cross and three more years of hardship. But his relief would only have been temporary because his Father’s wrath would have swiftly come upon the world.
Thankfully for us, Jesus tossed aside this temptation. Without hesitation he looked forward to the day when he would conquer the devil, sin and death at the cross and earn for himself a seat at his Father’s side.
There were few regions in Israel that suffered as much as Galilee. Since the Assyrians had overrun the area some 700 years before, the people had suffered intensely as one conquering nation after another invaded the area. But with the Light of Life came a light of hope and Jesus came preaching John’s message of repentance but with the Good News. The Kingdom of God was near.
Jesus preached to a people who were greatly poor and oppressed. Their ancestors were a people who were arrogant, decadent, rebellious and defiant towards God. Despite the warnings of the coming doom, these Israelites remained defiant. And like their forefathers, this was a people who had become spiritually numb to heavenly things. A great Light came and shone in a dark place and Christ’s people rejoiced at his miracles.
Beyond the prophecy is another illustration of God’s mercy. Jesus preached first to regional outcasts. He ministered first to the least deserving among Israel. He shined the light of his truth upon a people who in spiritual terms had constantly lived in the shadow of hell. And he came and reached out to an undeserving people to show us what love looks like and to show us what true heavenly mercy and love can produce in the face of the darkest evil and the deepest spiritual blindness.
Jesus favored the lowly and disadvantaged. He selected two sets of brothers who came from humble roots. They each ran a simple, blue-collar family business and they were uneducated. The fact that these young men were serving on their father’s boat meant that their early studies in the Torah and Prophets hadn’t distinguished them enough to be chosen to apprentice under even the lowliest rabbi. Having been passed over for better minds and more eloquent tongues, these men joined the family business. Then one day when a strange rabbi from Nazareth called out to them and changed their lives and forever changed their hearts.
Jesus’ choices send us a clear message. If these are the kinds of people the Lord chooses to bless, then we shouldn’t think highly of ourselves. Scriptures tells us that God has chosen “the foolish things of the world to shame the wise….the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” It goes on to say that God “chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor. 1:27-29). If we have been chosen by God, then we should also consider ourselves among the foolish, the despised, the disadvantaged and the oppressed.
Given God’s preference to raise the humble and exalt the lowly, we can understand the religious elite’s first impression. Pedigree and wealth were things they highly prized and so it’s likely that they scoffed at Christ’s choices. We see later that they held Jesus in contempt for choosing such seemingly foolish men to follow him.
But if Jesus’ choices do not humble us, his disciples’ responses should. When the disciples heard Jesus’ call them, they immediately left their homes and families to follow him. They were not like the man who asked Jesus permission to go say goodbye to his family first. They were also not like the man who asked for time to bury his father when Jesus called him. They didn’t make excuses not to follow him. They put aside what they were doing and followed after him.