The Temptation of Jesus: Matthew 4:5-11

The Temptation of Jesus: Matthew 4:5-11

The Temptations of Jesus

Matthew 4:5-11

Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“He will command His angels concerning you,”
And
“On their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to HIm, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“You shall worship the Lord your God
And Him only shall you serve.”’ 

Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”

Looking at the Last Temptations of Jesus

In the last blog post, we looked at the first temptation of Jesus. Here we will take a look at the last two temptations and try to make sense of what Matthew may be trying to tell us about Jesus in this entire story. We’ll walk through each temptation and then try to wrap it all together. 

The Second Temptation of Jesus: Putting God to the Test

First, after tempting Jesus with bread, the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple. He told Jesus to jump off. This time in his temptation, he quoted Scripture in order to make his temptation sound more reasonable. He specifically quoted Psalm 91. 

As always, I want to stop here and take a look back at Psalm 91, so we can get some better context for the verses the devil quoted.

Psalm 91 talks about how God is a refuge for those who love Him. When they are in trouble, He will take care of them. It starts out with these lines:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and  my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust.”

The psalm goes on to detail what will happen for those who trust in God. For those who trust in God, He will guard them and keep them. 

The devil reminded Jesus about two specific verses in Psalm 91:

“For He will command His angels concerning you”

And

“On their hands they will bear you up,
Lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

But of course, there is a huge difference between the message of Psalm 91 and the way the devil used these verses. In Psalm 91, the psalmist describes what happens when we turn to God as our refuge in times of trouble. However, there is a big difference between simply trusting God to take care of us when we’re suffering and jumping off a building and expecting God to save us. There is a difference between trusting God and testing God, as we see in Jesus’ response.

It is also quite ironic that he stopped quoting right before this verse:

“You will tread on the lion and the adder;
The young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.”

It’s almost like he avoided this verse. Because he knew that’s what Jesus came here to do. Jesus came to tread on the lion and trample the very serpent who was tempting Him in that moment. That’s what the Son of God came here to do.

The Third Temptation of Jesus: An Act of Worship

After tempting Jesus to jump off the temple, he took Jesus to a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. And then, he told Jesus if He would worship him, the devil would give all the kingdoms to Him. 

Jesus once again quoted Scripture in response to both temptations. In the last response, Jesus told the devil to go away. Satan left and then angels came to Jesus and ministered to Him.

What Does All This Tempting Mean?

The interpretation I grew up hearing for this story was how important it is to know your Bible. You need to know your Bible because you can use Scripture to fight temptation. And sometimes the devil will even use Scripture in his temptations. But he’ll twist it and use it incorrectly. So, you not only need to know the Bible, you need to know it well.  

I absolutely think this is a great lesson to learn from these verses. As we learned in a previous post, a lot of the time we read the Bible in short bursts. We know a few verses here and there. But we often fail to see those verses in light of the verses around them. Then, it’s very easy for us to not know when Scripture is being misused.

Helping people really understand their Bibles is a huge passion of mine. It’s why I’m writing this series after all. My whole goal in all of this is for you to know the Gospel of Matthew better and to know God better as a result. 

There’s More to the Temptation of Jesus Than Just Knowing the Bible Better.

But, knowing the Bible to fight temptation is a crucial lesson for us to learn, I think Matthew is doing a lot more in this story. And in order to figure out what he’s doing, we’ll need to dig a little deeper.

 Let’s start by looking up the verses Jesus quoted in response to Satan.

Testing God at Massah

In response to the temptation to jump off the temple, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:16. So, let’s go over to Deuteronomy.

 I will just take a look at Deuteronomy 6 specifically in this post. If you want to know more about the context and the general point of Deuteronomy, you can take a look at the last blog post, this video from the Bible Project, or of course you can always read Deuteronomy yourself.

“You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the people who are around you- for the LORD your God in your midst is a jealous God- lest the anger of the LORD your God be kindled against you, and He destroy you from on the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 6:14-15.

These two verses give you a glimpse of what God was telling His people in this section. In Deuteronomy 6, God through Moses told the Israelites what He expected of them as they entered Canaan. The most important thing He warned them about is not worshipping idols. They were about to enter the Promised Land. And they were going to find a lot of good things there. These were good things God was giving them. And it would be easy for the Israelites to forget God. They would be surrounded by other nations who were worshipping other gods. It would be easy for the Israelites to get sucked in and forget who gave them the land in the first place. 

Then, God said:

“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested HIm at Massah.”

So, what is God talking about here? Well, now we have to go back even further in the Old Testament to Exodus 17. I will give you a quick summary here, but as always I encourage you to read this story on your own. 

Very soon after God delivered Israel from slavery in Egypt, they complained about not having water. They questioned God’s goodness. They even began asking if God had brought them out of Egypt just to kill them. In response, God told Moses to hit a rock with his staff, and from that rock, water came. Exodus 17:7 says, “And he allied the name of the place Massah and Merribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’”

The Israelites tested God. They basically asked God to prove Himself to them. And this is what Matthew’s readers would have had in mind when they read Jesus’ words.

Worshipping God Alone

Then, in response to the temptation to worship Satan, Jesus quoted from the same chapter of Deuteronomy 6:13, only a few verses before what we just looked at. Again, God was giving His people instructions for how they are supposed to live once they enter Canaan. He specifically warned them about worshipping other gods. And it is in this context that Jesus’ quote comes from. 

“It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by His name you shall swear.”

Now, let’s go back and look at Matthew 4.

The Core of the Temptation of Jesus: If You Are the Son of God…

One thing that can be helpful when studying a passage in the Bible is to look for patterns in the story. Is there a phrase or a word that comes up a lot? Do the different parts of the story use the same structure or pattern? Write these patterns down as you study and pray through them a little. Take some time to read the story over a couple of times and think about how these patterns can help you understand what’s going on. Of course, as always you need to be careful to not read too much into the story, but just see what makes sense. 

When I was studying this story one thing that caught my attention was the way the devil started the first two temptations: “If you are the Son of God…” The only temptation that doesn’t start this way is the last one. I also thought it was interesting that this story happened right after Jesus was baptized.

Why?

Well, what happened as Jesus was coming out of the water? A voice from heaven said, 

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

God had just declared Jesus as His Son. And then, Jesus went into the wilderness to be tempted. And the first two temptations start with a direct challenge to His status as the Son of God. I also think the last temptation is related to Jesus being the Son of God, but we’ll get there in a minute. 

Jesus is the Son of God

I think the main point of this story isn’t about knowing your Bible better. The point is that Jesus is the Son of God. That’s the point Matthew is getting at here. We’ve already discussed how one of the main points we see in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the Christ. That’s the case Matthew has been making since the beginning of the Gospel. And he’s also showing his Jewish audience what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ. He has already made the point that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. And in the baptism of Jesus Matthew tells his audience that Jesus is also the Son of God. Then, the devil comes in and says, “Is He really the Son of God?” “If He really was the Son of God…” And he challenges Jesus to prove Himself.

These were probably the questions Matthew’s Jewish audience was asking as well. Matthew just told them that Jesus was the Son of God. The Christ, the Messiah they had been waiting for was not just a man, according to Matthew. Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah was the Son of God.

Now, what about that last temptation? How does that relate to everything else we just looked at? It doesn’t start with “If you are the Son of God…” Well, I still think in a way it’s still a challenge to Jesus’ status as God’s Son. By not worshipping the devil, Jesus makes it very clear that He is the Son of God. If He wasn’t really the Son of God, He would have given into that temptation. He could get the kingdoms of the world without going to the cross. He could rule the world without the pain and suffering that awaited Him.

But the Son of God chose the cross. He knew, obviously that nothing would come of worshipping the devil. He knew that as God with us, He already had the world in His hands. But I still think it’s cool that in this temptation we see Jesus turn away from the potentially easy route, for our sake and God’s glory. In this last temptation, we see that Jesus is in fact the Son of God.

Jesus’ Victory Over Temptation

All of this makes it even more ironic that the devil leaves out the verse about treading on the lion and the serpent. Because that’s how Jesus will actually prove Himself. Instead of turning rocks into bread and jumping off buildings, Jesus will prove He is the Son of God by completing the task God has assigned to Him. He will prove He is the Son of God by dying for the sins of the world and rising again, trampling the serpent beneath His feet. 

Other Resources on the Temptation of Jesus

Of course, Scripture is deep and it’s hard to pull out everything that a passage or story means. I just shared what God showed me as I studied. As always, I encourage you to share what God showed you when you studied this story. I also wanted to share a couple of other views on the temptation of Jesus.

  1. https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/temptation-jesus/
  2. https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesus-temptations.html

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone: Matthew 4:1-4

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone: Matthew 4:1-4

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone

Matthew 4:1-4

Matthew 4:1-4 Man Shall Not Live by Bread Alone

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But He answered, ‘It is written,

Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” 

After Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, Matthew tells us He went out to the wilderness the be tempted. This is another story that a lot of us might be familiar with. I know I’ve read and heard this story preached countless times. Because it is so familiar, I want to take some time to slow down and study it a bit deeper.Over the course of a couple of posts,  I’ll show you guys some of what God has shown me as I’ve studied this story. The fun part is there is a lot going on in these verses. So, I will try to share everything God showed me, but I won’t be able to hit everything. 

As always, I want to encourage you to study it on your own. Take some time to summarize the story. Make any notes of things that stick out to you. Ask questions and go find answers. Pray for God to help you to see Jesus as you study. Ask Him to work in your heart. And, of course feel free to share what God shows you!

Summarize

First, let’s summarize these first four verses.

Matthew tells us that Jesus was led by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights. I love that Matthew points out how Jesus was hungry. It’s such a simple statement. But it’s also profound. The Son of God felt what we feel. Even something as human as hunger, Jesus felt it. And it wasn’t just like I haven’t eaten lunch yet hunger. It was starving hunger. It was desperate hunger. 

Then, the tempter, or the devil, came and tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread. But Jesus answered by saying:

“It is written

‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

The First Temptation of Jesus

Now I want to spend some time digging through what we just read. As always I want to keep a few key things in mind. First I want to always be thinking about how this story builds on what I’ve already read in Matthew. How does Jesus being tempted in the desert help Matthew make his case that Jesus is the Christ? 

And I also want to be looking for what this story teaches me about Jesus. Matthew isn’t just trying to make a case for Jesus being the Christ. He’s also trying to help his readers understand what that meant. He wants his readers to understand what kind of King Jesus came to be. 

Finally, I want to let the Spirit lead me as I dig. Look for things that catch your attention. Ask questions. And just follow where He leads, even if it seems off course for a bit. Sometimes when I’m studying I’ll ask a very simple question about the passage I’m reading and it’ll take me on a journey I definitely didn’t plan. But those are often some of my deepest moments with Jesus. Be willing to let Him convict and comfort as you study. It’s easy for Bible study to become this intellectual, academic exercise. Of course, you’re not always going to have these deep moments. There are a lot of times where I just take notes and nothing else spectacular happens. But there are also times where God uses what I’m studying to really prick my heart. We just have to be open to how He decides to lead us each day when we study. 

Jesus Was Tempted

Something that always hits me is the simple yet profound fact that Jesus was tempted. Maybe we don’t always see how that’s significant. I know for a long time reading about Jesus being tempted was just normal. I never thought much about it because it’s just part of the story. But over the years God has helped me see just how amazing the temptation of Jesus is. And He has turned Jesus’ temptation into a source of comfort as well. 

The story of Jesus’ temptation reminds me of a couple of verses in Hebrews 2. In Hebrews 2 it says, 

“For surely it is not the angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.”

I think Hebrews 2 is so powerful. In fact, it’s one of my favorite passages in the Bible. And God has used those verses to encourage my heart quite a bit. And it blows my mind to think that Jesus, the Son of God, God with us was tempted. 

Jesus was tempted. Jesus was tempted like I am. Jesus, the Son of God, was tempted so He could help me as I’m being tempted. 

What kind of God does that? 

I think understanding Hebrews 2 is so helpful for understanding the significance of Jesus’ temptation. He wasn’t just tempted to pass a test or to show that He’s holy. He didn’t need to do that. Instead, Jesus, the Son of God and God with us, was tempted just like we are so that He could help us as we’re tempted. This isn’t just a regular old Bible story. This is the gospel. He not only takes our sins upon Himself, He chooses to face them head-on in His own temptation. He makes an effort to sympathize with us as we face temptation. 

Jesus Suffered When Tempted

And according to Hebrews, Jesus suffered as He was being tempted.

Until I read those verses in Hebrews, I had never made a connection between temptation and suffering. Jesus wasn’t just tempted. He suffered as He was tempted. And because He suffered as He was being tempted, He is able to help us as we suffer when tempted. 

For a long time, I always thought God was annoyed with me when I faced temptation. I had this vision in my head of God watching me thinking, “You’d better not do it. Don’t do it.” My version of God was one who had very little sympathy. He had no desire to help me because I should just be able to get myself out of this on my own.

But in the temptation of Jesus, we see clearly, that God has compassion for us when we are tempted. Jesus was made like us in every respect so that He could be a merciful high priest. He doesn’t look at us in temptation and roll His eyes. Instead, He comes to us, with mercy, and says, “I’m right here with you. I know what this feels like.”

Jesus knows what it’s like to be us.

Man Shall Not Live By Bread Alone

Now let’s look at how Jesus responds to temptation.  

Jesus quoted Scripture in response to temptation. A typical application of this story is how important it is to know your Bible. And that’s definitely something we can learn from this text. Knowing the Bible is essential to fighting temptation. But, I think if we take time to dig a little, we can find that there’s more to what’s going on in this story than we see on the surface. 

So, let’s take a minute to look up the verses that Jesus quotes here. Remember, Matthew is writing to a primarily Jewish audience. And they would have known exactly what Jesus was quoting. And I think if we look at the verse He quotes in its original context we can see a bit more of what Jesus is doing here, and what Matthew is trying to tell us about Him.

This first quotation comes from Deuteronomy 8. Before we look at the exact verses Jesus quoted, I want to take a look at the context first. I’ll give you guys a quick overview of Deuteronomy in case you’re not familiar with it or if you need a refresher. You can also learn more about Deuteronomy in this video from the Bible Project. 

Deuteronomy is the last book of a section in the Old Testament known as the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch is made of the first five books of the Bible. These books are also known as the Law of Moses. The other books in this section include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers.

Genesis talks about the beginning of the world and the nation of Israel. We see God’s hand in the creation of the world and of His chosen people. In Exodus, we read about their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. A good portion of Exodus is dedicated to setting up the priesthood and place of worship. Some parts of Exodus also include a few laws. We see most of the Laws for the people of Israel in Leviticus. Finally, Numbers talks about how the Israelites were about to enter the land of Canaan, which God promised them. Unfortunately, they were afraid of the Canaanites and didn’t want to enter. Because they did not trust God, He made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years.

Deuteronomy is set after the 40 years in the wilderness. Deuteronomy spends a lot of time reminding Israel of their past and the Law. God spoke through Moses and reminded the Israelites of everything He has commanded them. Over and over in Deuteronomy, we see God remind His people that He saved them from slavery in Egypt. Because they saw the wonders God did to save them from slavery, they should be able to trust Him in leading them into the Promised Land.

In Deuteronomy 7, Moses reminded Israel that God chose them. He set them apart from all other nations. Moses also reminded the Israelites about not conforming to the idolatry of the nations around them. 

Then, in chapter 8, Moses said this:

“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord your God swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that He might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart whether you would keep His commandments or not. And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”

Moses reminds the Israelites of how God provided for them as they wandered in the wilderness. He led them into the wilderness in order to humble them. He let them go hungry. And when they were hungry, He provided. God fed His people with manna. This manna came directly from Him. They didn’t grow it or plant it. It was simply given to them by God. All they had to do was gather it. God gave them this bread in order to help them see that they couldn’t live by their own efforts. Their only hope for life was to depend on God. And this is significant considering why they were in the wilderness in the first place. They were there because they didn’t trust that God would provide. They didn’t believe God would give them what they needed. Their hunger in the wilderness gave God an opportunity to show His people that He would give them what they needed.  

I don’t think it was a coincidence that Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8 right after spending 40 days and nights in the wilderness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus spent 40 days. The Israelites were hungry as they wandered. So was Jesus. Remember, Matthew specifically points out that Jesus was hungry. He felt the same physical hunger that the Israelites felt. And so His response to the temptation to turn stones into bread becomes even more significant. 

Jesus isn’t just randomly quoting Scripture here. He’s pointing back to Israel’s broken history.

If You Are the Son of God

Now, let’s take all of that and try to see how it all fits into the rest of the story Matthew is trying to tell. Remember, Matthew is trying to prove to his Jewish readers that Jesus is the Christ. And as he does that he is also helping his readers understand what that means. 

So, how do we see that here in the temptation of Jesus?

Well, first of all, we can see it immediately in how Satan first tempts Jesus. The first thing he does is question whether or not Jesus is really the Son of God. If He was the Son of God He could easily solve His hunger problem. And surely, Matthew’s readers had similar questions. How do we know that Jesus is the Son of God? In fact, later on in Matthew’s Gospel and the other Gospels, we see the Jews challenging who Jesus really was. Matthew begins to address this question head-on.

Surely if Jesus was the Son of God He would be able to turn stones into bread. Surely the Son of God wouldn’t feel hungry. 

But remember what we’ve already talked about. Yes, Jesus could have solved His hunger problems. But then He would have contradicted His own purpose. The Son of God came to suffer when tempted. He came to suffer what we suffer so that He could be a merciful high priest. He came to feel the same hunger, the same pain we feel. In Jesus’ response to His first temptation, Jesus once again chooses to identify Himself with sinners. He chooses to identify with those who suffer when faced with temptation.

Next Week

Hopefully, this first post sparked a little interest in digging deeper into this story. The temptation of Jesus is not a story I have studied much. But since I’ve been studying it for this blog, God has really shown me so much of who He is. And at the same time, I feel like I’m just tapping into what is going on in these verses. I challenge you to dig in for yourself. Next week, we will be looking at the second temptation of Jesus in verses 5-7. Go ahead and look up the Scripture quoted in these verses for yourself. Pray for God to help you see what He is trying to teach you about Jesus. And share anything you learn in the comments in this or the next post!

The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of Jesus

Matthew 3:13-17

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Joran to John to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him saying, ‘I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”

The Story of Matthew

One thing that I find helpful when reading different parts of the Bible is to try to read it like a story. Of course, the Bible is true and so different than other stories. But I think we can gain a different perspective on different parts of the Bible if we read it like a story. Try reading through these first chapters of Matthew like they’re the beginning of a book. Imagine for a moment that you don’t know what’s going to happen next. And as you read look for how the author builds the story. We talked a bit in one of the first posts in this series about how important it is to understand the literary context of what we’re reading. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about here. Take some time to reread what we’ve already read in Matthew. Read it from the perspective of someone who had never heard it before. Let yourself get swept up in the story Matthew is trying to tell. And as you do this, pray for God to help you understand the point Matthew is trying to make throughout the story. As you do this, I think God will meet you in it and you’ll learn deeper things about Jesus.

In the last blog post, Matthew stepped away from focusing on Jesus for just a moment. Up until this point, Matthew had been focusing exclusively on Jesus. He gave us a bit of a prologue with Jesus’ genealogy. Then, Matthew told us the story of how Jesus was born. And right before introducing John the Baptist, he tells us that Jesus’ family moved from Egypt to Nazareth in Galilee.

Now as a reader you might expect Matthew to go on talking about Jesus, He is the point of the story after all. Instead, Matthew turns to another character, John the Baptist. Matthew says John was preaching in the wilderness, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). Matthew tells us John is the fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah 40:3. Here Isaiah spoke about someone who would come before the coming of the Lord. This man would go, clearing the way and announcing that the Lord was coming. And according to Matthew, that’s exactly who John was. Matthew tells his readers that John also came in the spirit of Elijah. He does this very subtly with a description of John: “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.” Matthew’s description of John is almost exactly how Elijah was described in 2 Kings 1.

John baptized people as they confessed their sins to him. And when Pharisees and Sadducees approached John, he rebuked them, calling them a brood of vipers. He warned them that someone would come after him, who was greater. This person would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and fire.

The Baptism of Jesus

And “then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him.”

So, Matthew is setting his readers up for something important in his description of John. The introduction of John the Baptist isn’t random. It’s an important part of the story. It’s important to the text we’re looking at today. Matthew is telling his Jewish readers, in case they haven’t gotten it already, the Lord is coming. Matthew has already been trying to make the case from square one that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus is the King the Jews were waiting for. And here Matthew takes it a step further. Jesus is not just an earthly king. He is the Lord. He is the Lord coming for His people. And John the Baptist was preparing the way for Him to come.

And so, Matthew smoothly brings us right back to the point of his story, Jesus.

Jesus came to John to be baptized by him. Matthew tells us that John was surprised that Jesus wanted to be baptized.

John would have prevented Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?'”

John’s surprise leads us to one of the most important questions to answer in this text. Why did Jesus need to be baptized? It was clearly a question John had as Jesus approached him. And I think it’s an important question for us to ask as well. The baptism of Jesus is an easy thing to take for granted. To be honest, I often don’t take the time to think much about it. In fact, I never really thought much about it until I started this study. It’s part of the Bible that I’ve known my whole life. And I think I’ve taken it for granted that Jesus was baptized by John. It’s just another part of the story.

But it is a really important part of the story. It’s the part Matthew uses to introduce Jesus’ adult ministry. And it comes right after John announced the coming of the Lord. The baptism of Jesus is in fact a pivotal scene in the Gospel of Matthew.

So, let’s take some time to look at the significance of Jesus’ baptism. I’ll be honest, I’m just starting to look into this passage. So, I won’t necessarily have a full, deep answer. And so as always I challenge and encourage you to do some studying on your own. Take a little time to pray about this story. Read it. Take notes on it. Do some research if you have the time. Just make sure that your understanding of this story is truly your understanding. Don’t just go along with what I say.

Baptism for Repentance

If we look back at what we’ve read in Matthew already, we can get some clues about why Jesus’ baptism was so significant. In the last post, we looked at the baptism of John in general. John’s baptism was specifically for repentance. People came to John in response to his call to repent. They came and confessed their sins to him.

But Jesus was not sinful. There was no reason for Him to be baptized. John even recognized this. He realized Jesus was the one that needed to baptize him, not the other way around. However, Jesus told John His baptism was necessary “to fulfill all righteousness.”

So what does that mean? How does Jesus’ baptism fulfill all righteousness?

Well, just based on what we’re reading here in Matthew I wonder if Jesus’ baptism symbolizes how He takes the sin of the people on Himself. As we see later in the Gospels, Jesus died for the sins of the world. Jesus, who had no sin to die for, died for sinners. He took the sins of you and me and died. And here, even though Jesus had no sin to repent of, Jesus asked John to baptize Him. In His baptism, Jesus took on the sins of the people with His baptism. His baptism was a demonstration of what He was going to do later. And in His baptism, Jesus identified Himself with sinful people. Even though He was holy, Jesus chose to participate in something only sinners needed to do.

And that is a big deal. As I wrote about this in my notes while I was studying, I felt God pulling on my heartstrings a little. And even now I still feel a bit of a pull to make what I just said a bit more personal. I want you to do this too. What does this have to do with me? What does knowing that Jesus identifies Himself with sinners have to do with Kailynn (fill in your own name)?

Jesus, holy and sinless, identifies Himself with me, a wicked sinner. Instead of standing far off and demanding perfection, Jesus comes as God with us and identifies Himself with Kailynn. He chooses to take my sin. He chooses to do what only sinners need to do. And Jesus did that for me.

Jesus is The Son of God

After John baptized Jesus, He came up out of the water and “the heavens were opened to Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him.” When the Spirit came down a voice from heaven said,

This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the moment after Jesus’ baptism, we see God’s approval of Jesus. Jesus pleases God. And with these words, Matthew tells his readers something very important about Jesus.

Yes, Jesus is the Christ. He is the king the Jews were waiting for. But, Jesus is so much more than just an earthly king.

Jesus is the Son of God.

There is a lot we can learn from this section of Matthew. I want to try to understand what Matthew is saying here by weaving together some of what we’ve already read.

Jesus is the Christ. The Son of God. God with Us.

The primary point in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the Christ. And throughout the Gospel, Matthew is trying to reinforce and build on this point. He wants his Jewish readers to know Jesus is the Christ and to understand what that means.

According to Matthew, Jesus is more than just an earthly king. He is not a political king. He is God Himself. Even the Son of God. Matthew has already identified Jesus as “God with us” in chapter 1. Jesus is literally God coming to His people. And that fits in with what we learned about John the Baptist. John was preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. When describing John the Baptist Matthew quotes from Isaiah 40:

The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His path straight.”

Based on the context of these verses, John wasn’t just preparing the way for another king. He was preparing the way for the Lord. He was preparing the way for God Himself. The Lord was coming to set His people free.

And here in the baptism of Jesus, Matthew identifies Jesus as the Son of God. Again, He is not just an earthly king. Jesus is the Son of God.

So, early on in Matthew, we are beginning to see him hinting at an important fact about Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the Christ. But He’s not the Christ the Jews were expecting. He’s not just a man. Jesus is the Son of God, God with us. He is the Lord coming for His people.

And this is something that makes Christianity radical and beautiful.

We might be tempted to believe God is distant from His creation. It’s easy to think about God looking at us and loving us from a distance, not wanting to get His holy hands dirty. He loves us, but from a distance, keeping us at arms-length so that our mess does not get on Him.

But as we see, even here in the first few chapters of Matthew, that could not be further from the truth. We saw earlier in this blog post that as Jesus was being baptized, He was identifying Himself with sinful people. And then Jesus is identified as the Son of God.

Over and over in Matthew, we see a picture of a God who is very involved with His creation. As we will see later in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ, both fully God and fully man, poured out His blood so that anyone who would believe in Him would be restored back to God. Just like Jesus participated in a baptism He didn’t need, He will also die a death He didn’t deserve. We see a God who loves so much that, not only will He get His hands dirty, He will get them bloody.

This is the king the Jews were waiting for. They just didn’t know it. They had all of these ideas about what the Christ would be. But they had no idea how truly amazing and different He would really be. Jesus came as that Christ, not to simply set the Jews free from Rome. He came to rescue a dying world from sin. He came to be God with sinners. He came to be God with you and me.

Resources

In case you wanted to do some more studying on your own time, here some resources that might be helpful! As always I would love to hear about what God is teaching you as you study! Next week we will be looking at Matthew 4:1-4.

https://biblehub.com/commentaries/matthew/3-13.htm

https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-stories/baptism-of-jesus-bible-story.html

https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Matt/God-Honors-His-Humble-Son

Make Straight the Way

Make Straight the Way

Make Straight the Way

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, 

‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His path straight.’’

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Saducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

I baptize you with water for repentance, but He comes after me is mightier than I whose sandal I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.’”

As Matthew transitions away from Jesus’ birth, he takes the focus off of Jesus for a brief moment. He introduces us to John the Baptist. John the Baptist is probably one of the most well known characters in the Gospels, next to Jesus of course. Because he is so familiar to many people, I want to take some time to really slow down and walk through these verses.

I want to start with a summary of how Matthew describes John the Baptist. Then, we’ll do a pretty deep dive into this story. I’ll go section by section and point out a few things as we go. As always, I encourage you to take your own notes as you study. Don’t just rely on my notes, but investigate this story for yourself. You can use what I write to guide you. But my goal is for you to be able to study the Bible on your own as much as possible. 

Summary

According to Matthew, John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. Matthew points out that John’s preaching was a fulfillment of a prophecy from Isaiah. As John preached, people came to be baptized by him, including the Pharisees and Sadducees. John rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them a brood of vipers. He told them that someone greater would come after him. That person would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 

Unpacking

There’s a lot to unpack in these verses. So, like I said before, we’ll go section by section. As we go, keep the whole story of Matthew in mind. Remember what we’ve talked about already. Matthew’s primary audience was Jewish. Based on the genealogy in Matthew 1, he was trying to show his audience two things:

  1. Jesus was the Christ, the promised Messiah they had been waiting for
  2. What it means for Jesus to be the Christ. What kind of kingdom He was brining in. What kind of king He would be. And ultimately what Jesus’ purpose was as the Christ.

Remembering all of this can help us as we read about John the Baptist.

A Voice Crying

The first detail we have about John is that he came preaching in the wilderness. Matthew summarizes his preaching in one sentence: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Then, Matthew tells us that John is the person who was spoken about in a prophecy from Isaiah:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His path straight.’”

This prophecy comes from Isaiah 40:3. Before Isaiah said the words quoted in Matthew, he warned king Hezekiah of Judah about the coming exile. Isaiah said that Hezekiah would be spared, but the exile would still come in future generations. After delivering the bad news, Isaiah breaks into chapter 40 with this words:

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

And cry to her
That her warfare has ended
That her iniquity is pardoned
That she has received from the LORD’s hand
Double for all her sins.

A voice cries:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill made low;
The uneven ground shall become level,
And the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’”

These words from Isaiah start with comfort in the midst of judgment and suffering, something we’ve seen in previous prophecies. But then, he moves on to what we find in Matthew. A voice cries for a way to be made for the Lord. He cries for people to prepare for God to come. Even nature will bow and make a path for the Lord to come.

And according to Matthew, John the Baptist is that voice.

A Forerunner for the Lord

Now I want to take this a little further. While simply looking at the text we have in front of us is the first step to studying the Bible, it can also be helpful to look at the culture around the Bible and see what the original audience would have seen here. We learned in a previous post that Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience. And this audience would have been familiar with the reference to Isaiah. And there would have been things in Matthew’s quotation of Isaiah that we will likely miss, unless we look a little deeper, because we’re not 1st century Jews. So, to really understand what Matthew is trying to say here we’ll need to do a little research. I encourage you to do a little searching on your own if you have time. Of course, if you don’t have time, I’m more than happy to share what I’ve learned with you.

As I was researching this section of Matthew and the prophecy in Isaiah, I found some interesting notes that I think can help us get an even better understanding of what we’re reading. 

The idea in Isaiah of a person crying for people to make way for the Lord “is taken from the practice of Eastern monarchs, who whenever they entered on a journey…sent harbringers or heralds before hem to prepare a way” (Barnes Notes on the Bible). So basically, whenever a king would travel through a specific region, they would send a group of men ahead of them to clear the way. As they cleared the road, they would announce that a king was passing through. 

This is what Isaiah is alluding to in Isaiah 40. What makes this even more interesting is the context in which he makes this statement. Before he talks about the voice in the wilderness, he gives us the reason why the Lord is coming. He is not coming to destroy. He is not coming for vengeance. No. Instead, the Lord is coming to bring His people out of exile. Yes, He sent them into exile, but here He also promises to come and bring them out. A way needs to be made for Him to come. A path needs to be made straight so that the Lord can set His people free. 

Now let’s look back at Matthew. John is preparing the way for the coming king. He is preparing the people for the Christ. And in a sense, Matthew is also preparing his readers for the coming of Jesus as the Christ. By taking the time to introduce John the Baptist like this, Matthew helps his readers see that Jesus is the king they were waiting for.

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then, Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

With this next paragraph, Matthew gives his readers another important description of John the Baptist. The first sentence of this paragraph was one his original readers would have been very familiar with. It was a small hint at something that would have caught the attention of his Jewish audience. 

He says that John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist. He also ate locusts and wild honey.  Now to us, this just seems like a strange and radical lifestyle. But to Matthew’s readers, this sentence would have been very important. 

Why?

To understand why we have to go back to the Old Testament again. First, let’s go back to Malachi 4. In Malachi 4, we see a description of the coming day of the Lord. Toward the very end of Malachi 4, God says, “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes.” So, how does this prophecy connect to John the Baptist? Well, to answer that we need to go back a bit farther in the Old Testament to 2 Kings 1.

Here we see this description of the prophet Elijah: “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.”

Who does that sound like?

John the Baptist. 

So, in Matthew’s description of John the Baptist, Matthew is telling his readers that John is the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy of Elijah. 

What’s the Big Deal with Elijah?

Now, you may be asking, so what? The connection between John and Elijah is cool, but why is that significant? 

In order to answer those questions, we need to learn more about Elijah. And that means we will be spending even more time in the Old Testament (in case you haven’t figured it out by now, knowing the Old Testament is really helpful in understanding the Gospel of Matthew). I encourage you to do some investigating on your own. You can read through 1 Kings 17- 2 Kings 2 to see the whole story of Elijah. But, I know that’s a lot to read. So, I will give you a brief overview. 

Elijah was a prophet in Israel during the reign of King Ahab. Ahab married a woman named Jezebel who turned him away from worshipping God. Ahab worshipped idols and encouraged idolatry among the people of Israel. God sent Elijah to warn Ahab and to call him to repentance. 

And so, John the Baptist came, also calling God’s people to repentance.

God sent Elijah to Israel to warn them to repent before it was too late. God was patient with His people. He wanted them to come back to Him. And He gave them time. But there would be a point where they would push it too far. They would test the patience of God and wrath would come

. And Elijah was sent to warn them. Likewise, John was sent before Jesus to call people to repentance. In Malachi 4, we see that a day would come when God would come to His people. And John the Baptist was telling the people that the day had come. It was time to turn from their sin. It was time to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

The Pharisees and Sadducees

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stone to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

As John the Baptist was baptizing people in the Jordan Pharisees and Sadducees came to him as well. Now, if you’re at least a little familiar with the Gospels and the story of Jesus, you’ll know a little about the Pharisees and Sadducees. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious and social elite of 1st century Judaism. Jesus often criticized them during His ministry. The Pharisees are especially known today for being legalistic and even hypocritical. They often were so concerned with keeping God’s laws that they missed the heart behind them.

But, as I’ve been studying Matthew, I learned a little bit more about the Sadducees and specifically the Pharisees that I think will help us understand where they’re coming from and why John critiques them the way he does.

The Sadducees: The Social Elite

The Sadducees made up the upper class in 1st century Judaism. They were much more liberal than the Pharisees. And most of the time the Pharisees and Sadducees disagreed with each other on a lot of things. When it came to the Scriptures, the Sadducees believed only the first five books of the Bible were authoritative. The Sadducees rejected the “Oral Law” (which we’ll talk about in a minute) that the Pharisees held to. They also didn’t believe in an afterlife or resurrection. Because they valued their social status, they were often willing to conform to Roman culture.

The Pharisees: The Religious Elite

The Pharisees are probably the most well-known sect of 1st century Judaism. And they were a very important sect of Judaism. In fact, they ended up setting the stage for Judaism as we know it today. The Pharisees were the group that had the most conflict with Jesus throughout the Gospels. We see Jesus constantly calling them out for their hypocrisy and legalism.

The Pharisees were different from the Sadducees in many ways. First of all, they did not always enjoy the same social and political status that the Sadducees enjoyed. They were a group made up of many different people, from different social classes. And while the Sadducees placed great emphasis on worship in the temple, the Pharisees worked to help the Jews extend worship into their everyday lives. They encouraged Jews to worship God outside of the temple. This would prove to be helpful when the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.

As a religious sect, the Pharisees were extremely concerned about piety and obedience to God. They were especially concerned with how the Law applied to every aspect of Jewish life. They believed very strongly in the Torah that God gave to Moses. And they also believed in an Oral law. This law, they believed, was given at the same time God gave Moses the Torah. This oral law created guidelines for how Jews were to honor God in their everyday life. The Pharisees were very interested in making sure their fellow Jews understood and obeyed this oral law.

From what I’ve read about the Pharisees, it seems that they started out with good intentions. They saw the consequences God’s people faced for not following the Law in the past. And they wanted to make sure the people were pleasing God. The initial desire of the Pharisees seems to be a good one. They wanted to help people follow God’s Law better. But, over time, they became twisted. The Pharisees became so focused on the tiny details of their Oral Law that they missed important parts o the actual Law. And they missed God’s heart behind it. We see this many times in their confrontations with Jesus. By focusing so much on how the Torah was lived out in every single part of life, the Pharisees placed unnecessary burdens on the people. And because they were not really living out these Laws themselves, they were being hypocritical.

The Brood of Vipers

The Pharisees and Sadducees represented the highest and the best in 1st century Judaism. The Pharisees were the holiest. They scrutinized the Law and made sure every aspect of their lives looked perfect. On the outside, they appeared to be the most righteous. The Sadducees on the other hand, held the highest social status. Because wealth and power were often viewed as stamps of approval from God, it would be easy to see why the Sadducees believed they pleased God.

John told the Pharisees and Sadducees to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. As we see later in the Gospels, the Pharisees didn’t feel like they needed to repent. They didn’t think they were sinners. Likewise, the Sadducees didn’t see the need to repent either. They had wealth and social status. They had God’s stamp of approval. But according to John, both the Pharisees and Sadducees needed to repent as much as anyone else there. Following the Law wasn’t good enough. Being rich wasn’t good enough. Even being children of Abraham wasn’t good enough. They needed to humble themselves and repent of their sins. They needed to recognize they were wrong.

Confessing and Repenting

I think an important point to take away from this story is the importance of confession and repentance. That’s the whole point of John’s baptism. When the people went to him, Matthew specifically says they were confessing their sins to him. They saw their sin and were willing to acknowledge it. And John called the Pharisees and Sadducees to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. As we’ve already discussed, the Pharisees and Sadducees saw no need to repent. They didn’t think they sinned. Repentance didn’t apply to them. God was already pleased.

I think here in Matthew we see an interesting spectrum of sorts. On the one side, we see those who have compromised the Law. Elijah came in the Old Testament to reveal the sin of Ahab and Israel. Elijah called out their idolatry and how they had compromised the Law.  And that’s what John does here. He calls the people to repent. He calls them to confess their sins and turn back to God. But, on the other side, we have the Pharisees and Sadducees who in response the compromises of the past tried as hard as they could to keep the Law. But, unfortunately, they missed the point. And they ended up being just as sinful of everyone else. And so, John’s call to repent was just as much for them as it was for anyone else. They had become self-righteous and bore no real fruit.

So, John hits the full spectrum of sin. He hits those who go after a million different things to try to satisfy themselves. And he hits the ones who focus so much on keeping the Law that they miss God in the process. Both need to confess their sins. Both need to repent.

Prepare for the Coming King

In the last paragraph of this story, Matthew brings it back to Jesus. John says:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Like Elijah, John came for a specific purpose. He came to call people to repent of their sin. He came to prepare the way for the coming king. And by telling the story of John, Matthew shows his readers and us that Jesus is that king. Jesus was the one who was coming after John. Jesus would gather the wheat and leave the chaff. Jesus was the one John the Baptist was preparing the way for. And here again, we see Matthew trying to show his fellow Jews that their Messiah had come. The one they had been waiting for had finally come. And His name was Jesus.

 

Resources Used

https://biblehub.com/nasb/isaiah/40-3.htm

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/pharisees-sadducees-and-essenes

https://www.gotquestions.org/Sadducees.html

https://www.christianity.com/wiki/people/who-were-the-sadducees-in-the-bible-what-were-their-beliefs.html

Who Were the Pharisees? The Beginner’s Guide

 

 

 

Our Hope and Peace

Our Hope and Peace

Our Hope and Peace.

Matthew 2

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
For from you shall come a ruler
Who will shepherd my people Israel.’’

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship Him.’ After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and His mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy Him. And he rose and took the child and His mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’

Then Herod when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious and sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
She refused to be comforted,
Because they are no more.’

But when Herod died behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, ‘Rise, take child and His mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.’ And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in the place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that He would be called a Nazarene.”

So, now as we get into the next few chapters, the pace will start to pick up a bit. However, we may cover a bit more text in some parts than we did when we were studying Matthew 1. After the birth of Jesus, we get into a stretch of longer narrative. I encourage you to read Matthew 2-4 in one sitting some time. Try to get a feel for the story Matthew is weaving together. It will help you see the bigger picture of each individual part better.

Matthew 2 contains more that is familiar to a lot of Christians and those who have been in church for a while. It’s hard to study not because the content is difficult to understand, but because it’s so familiar. To be honest, it’s hard to find something to write about that most people don’t already know.

But I think that’s ok. I talked about how important it is to not take anything in Scripture for granted. Just because you may have heard this story before over and over, doesn’t mean it’s not important. It may be the same old truth you’ve heard your whole life. But it’s good truth. Sometimes we need to remember the same old truth. And sometimes God shows us a deeper part of the same old truth. We may think we know all there is to know about a passage or a particular truth and then God goes and blows our minds. He shows us an angle of a story that we never saw before. And that’s the beauty of Scripture.

A Summary

I want to start by summarizing what I read. And as I summarize, I want to keep what I’ve already read in mind. I want to always be thinking about how this part of Matthew connects to the genealogy and the story of Jesus’ birth. 

After Jesus was born, a group of wise men came to Herod, who was king. They told Herod they were looking for the “King of the Jews.” Herod sent the wise men to visit this King of the Jews after finding out he was born in Bethlehem. Herod said he wanted to visit as well. The wise men found Jesus, Mary, and Joseph in a house in Bethlehem. They gave Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Instead of returning to Herod, however, the wise men found another way home after God warned them in a dream.

Herod realized the wise men tricked him and had every baby boy under the age of two killed. But, God warned Joseph through a dream and the family escaped to Egypt. After Herod died, God told Joseph to go back to Israel. However, Herod’s son was reigning in Judea and Joseph was afraid of him. God then told Joseph to take his family to live in Nazareth. 

What Is Matthew Saying About Jesus?

Throughout the whole Gospel, Matthew is trying to show his fellow Jews who Jesus is. He wants the other Jews to know Jesus is the Christ. He is the Messiah. He is the King of the Jews. And as always, when we are reading through the Gospel, we need to keep that in mind.

What is Matthew doing in this story to show us that Jesus is the Christ? And even further, what can we learn about what it means for Jesus to be the Christ? These are the types of questions we always want to be asking.

Jesus’ Parallel to Moses

One interesting thing about the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is the parallelism between the story of Jesus and the story of Israel. The beginning of the nation of Israel becomes a shadow of the early life of Jesus. For example, when Herod kills all the infants in Bethlehem, we see a glimmer of Pharaoh’s actions at the beginning of Exodus. Both rulers were afraid of something. Pharaoh was afraid of the Israelites overpowering him. Herod was afraid of being dethroned by the future king of the Jews. And because of their fear, both men murdered innocent children. And like in the story of Exodus, God protected the one who would save His people.

Matthew is hinting here about who Jesus is. He is showing the Jews of his day, not only that Jesus is the Christ. He’s showing them what that means. He’s showing his fellow Jews what God has been doing since the Exodus and the beginning of the nation of Israel. And it’s bigger than any of them would have thought.

Old Testament Prophecies

Matthew also includes three references to the Old Testament. He points out three times the story of Jesus fulfills the Old Testament. The first comes from Micah 5, the second is from Hosea11, and the third from Jeremiah 31. I’ll deal with the first and the last one, and I encourage you to look at the second one on your own to practice.

He Will Be Their Peace.

The priests and scribes tell Herod that the Christ was supposed to be born in Bethlehem. And Matthew tells us how Jesus’ place of birth was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy:

“And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
For from you shall come a ruler
Who will shepherd my people Israel.”

It’s helpful when you are reading the Gospels is looking up Old Testament references. Looking at them in their original context can help us see them in a different light. We want to try to read the Gospels through the eyes of the original audience, in this case, first-century Jews. Looking up Old Testament references helps us see what they saw when they read Matthew’s Gospel. And when you look up the references, take some time to read more than the couple of verses Matthew quoted. Read the chapter before and after. Try to get a feel for the story those verses are in.

So, let’s look up the verses Matthew quotes here. This prophecy comes from Micah 5. Micha, like many of the other prophets, starts out with a description of coming judgment from God for the sins of the people. But, then there is a turning point and we see God promise to have mercy on His children. Micah 5 starts out like this:

“Now muster your troops, O daughter of troops;
Siege is laid against us:
With a rod they strike the judge of Israel
On the cheek.
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you shall come forth for me
One who is to be ruler in Israel,
Whose coming forth is from of old,
From ancient days.
Therefore He shall give them up until the time
When she who is in labor has given birth:

Then the rest of His brothers shall return
To the people of Israel.
And He shall stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD,
In the majesty of the name of the LORD His God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now, He shall be great
To the ends of the earth.
And He shall be their peace.

Matthew tells us that the Jews referenced Micah 5 to show that the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem. And here, Matthew shows his fellow Jews and us that Jesus’ birth fulfills what Micah prophesied. According to Matthew, Jesus is the ruler “whose coming is from of old.” And he would shepherd God’s people and be their peace.  

Rachel Weeping for Her Children

Matthew also includes a reference from the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Weeping and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
She refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Let’s take a look at Matthew’s reference to Jeremiah at the end of this story.

Matthew points us back to Jeremiah 31:5. Jeremiah can be a hard book to read. It primarily contains prophecy about Judah’s exile. God’s people had rejected Him, turning to worship idols and in turn oppressing the poor. Jeremiah started out by listing the charges against God’s people. He told them why the exile is coming.

Then, the book begins to turn a little. It turns from conviction to hope. From the pain of sin to the promise of salvation. Even though the exile would last a long time, God would restore His people. He would show them mercy. They would have joy again. The verses Matthew quotes come in the middle of this promise.

Here is Matthew’s reference the way it was written in Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah
Lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
She refuses to be comforted for her children
Because they are no more.”

Then, Jeremiah goes onto say (this is the part that isn’t in Matthew, but I think it helps us get a powerful perspective on Jesus):

“Thus says the Lord,
Keep your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears,
For there is a reward for your work,
Declares the Lord
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future,
Declares the Lord,
And your children shall come back to their own country.”

The Promise in the Middle of Judgment

Of course, there is a lot we can learn about Jesus by reading these Old Testament passages. And I would love to see what stood out to you as you studied them. I want to share a little of what stands out to me. It’s something I’ve noticed a lot about the prophecies from the Old Testament that Matthew references. It’s something that I think captures the beauty of the gospel and the reality of why Jesus came.

Both of these Old Testament references are found in the middle of books where God is pronouncing judgment on His people. As we learned a few posts ago, God’s people had sinned against Him. They turned from Him and began to worship other gods. Their idolatry corrupted their hearts and they oppressed the poor in their communities. 

Their sin broke God’s heart.

“What wrong did your fathers find in me
That they went far from me,
And went after worthlessness and became worthless?

Jeremiah 2:5-6

He gave them chances to repent. He gave them a chance to turn back to Him.

“Return, faithless Israel,
Declares the LORD.
I will not look on you in anger,
For I am merciful,
Declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 3:12

But, they choose their sin. They don’t turn back. And so, God pronounces judgment.

Reading through Jeremiah and even Micah is hard to do. Because the truth is everything God says against Judah and Israel, is true for me too. I deserve the same wrath they received. I have sinned against God. I have turned away from Him. I deserve to die. And I deserve God’s judgment. Every word God speaks against His people in both Jeremiah and Micah He should also be speaking against me. And when I read these books I feel that deep in my heart every single time. 

And as I read these hard words, I feel despair. I feel the weight of that judgment. My heart cries. My eyes go searching through the pages of these books looking for some light of hope.

Every single person reading this post is in the same position as the people of Judah and Israel. We all deserve judgment from God. We have all been exiled from the presence of God. Our sin and rebellion against God have sentenced us to exile and death. 

And that’s where these prophecies in Matthew can be so helpful. Because even in the midst of calling out His people for their sin, even in the midst of His wrath, God is still merciful. In the midst of the pain of the coming exile, which God’s people brought on themselves, God promised salvation for His people. And salvation does come. It comes in the Gospel of Matthew.

And it doesn’t just come for the Jews. 

It comes for the whole world. 

It comes for you.

It comes for Kailynn.

There is hope for me. Even when I don’t deserve it.

Even in the midst of His anger toward our sin, God promises salvation. Even in the midst of our sin and the suffering we often face as a result of it, we can find hope.

Even as we weep in the middle of our exile, God says to you and He says to me:

Keep your voice from weeping
And your eyes from tears,
For there is a reward for your work,
And you shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There is hope for your future.”

And that hope is named Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem.

He is the king. He is the promised Messiah. God’s people were waiting for a king. They were waiting for the Messiah who would be their peace.

But as we will see through the rest of the Gospel of Matthew and the rest of the New Testament, Jesus didn’t come to just be a good king for the Jews

He came to bring hope and peace to sinners like you and me. He came to bring us out of the land of the enemy, out of exile.

God promised hope in the midst of judgment and wrath toward our sin. And Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. And for everyone who trusts in Him will come back from the land of the enemy and He will be their peace.

​Next Week

Hopefully, this blog post was challenging and inspiring for you. If you have time, I encourage you to take a look at Matthew 2 on your own. Take a look at these prophecies for yourself. Look at the whole story Matthew is trying to tell hear. Pray for God to help you see more of who Jesus is. And I invite you to share what God is teaching you with the rest of us!

Next week we will jump into Matthew 3:1-12. So if you want to read ahead feel free!