Written by: Revd Maggi Dawn
Matthew 4 v 5-7
Then the devil led Jesus to the holy city of Jerusalem and put him on a high place of the Temple. The devil said, “If you are the Son of God, jump down, because it is written in the Scriptures:
‘He has put his angels in charge of you.
They will catch you in their hands so that you will not hit your foot on a rock.’”
Jesus answered him, “It also says in the Scriptures, ‘Do not test the Lord your God.’”
The story of Jesus’ temptations shows us two great things about him. First of all, it tells us that he really was human – not just God in a human mask, but real flesh and blood. It hurt when he got a splinter, he knew what it was like to fall in love, and when his friends let him down it was as devastating for him as it is for you and me.
But the second thing these stories do is to sum up in three temptations every major kind of temptation that you or I have to deal with. The first showed Jesus overcoming the temptation to abuse his religion to meet his own appetites.
Today’s verses show the second temptation - the temptation to abuse the power of God for personal glory and fame. Spiritual charisma or religious gifts can be a route to personal glory – whether that’s as a minor local celebrity or on a grand, international scale. Appearing to be specially gifted by God, or specially connected to spiritual things, sometimes leads people to exaggerate stories of their spiritual experiences, or even to fake miracles – check out Steve Martin in “Leap of Faith” (1992) for a comedy version!
Wanting to appear more holy and spiritual than everyone else can be really tempting, but, just like jumping off high buildings, it does you serious damage when you hit the ground. Better to live an honest life than to live for fame and glory.
God, please help me to be honest and realistic with others about my relationship with you, and to serve you without seeking personal status or glory. Amen
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Matthew 4 v 8-11
Then the devil led Jesus to the top of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and all their splendour. The devil said, “If you will bow down and worship me, I will give you all these things.”
Jesus said to the devil, “Go away from me, Satan! It is written in the Scriptures, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’”
So the devil left Jesus, and angels came and took care of him.
These verses are the final part of the three temptations of Jesus. (Read from the beginning of Matthew 4 for the first part of the story.) This last part of the story describes the temptation to abuse religion to gain political or social power – power over people, things or institutions, for personal gain. The ability to control things is something we all fall for in some way or other. Not everyone wants to control other people or rule the world, but most people want to control at least their own little world. When the human desire for control is mixed with belief in a God of unlimited power, the temptation to abuse power can hit overdrive.
The evidence of God’s power in our lives, however, is not shown through controlling other people, but through the willingness to serve them. Look at Jesus who, the night before he died, took off his coat, put on an apron and washed the dirty feet of his friends (John 13 v 1-17). The true evidence of God’s presence is not having power over other people but using the power you have to serve others. The most powerful religious person ever to walk the earth showed the love of God through acts of service and self-sacrifice – the very opposite of a control freak.
The three temptations seem to offer shortcuts to what God promises us in any case – to meet our needs, to give us valuable and fulfilled lives, and to fulfil our gifts for the benefit of the world. The trick of the devil is to lure us into a shortcut that gives us fifteen minutes of fame and a lifetime of regret. Authentic Christianity is a lifetime’s task, not a crash course. Pace yourself.
Dear Lord, help me to be impressed with you and realistic about myself. Fill me with enough self-confidence not to need to control others, and enough love to want to serve them in your name. Amen
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Matthew 4 v 12-17
When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he went back to Galilee. He left Nazareth and went to live in Capernaum, a town near Lake Galilee, in the area near Zebulun and Naphtali. Jesus did this to bring about what the prophet Isaiah had said:
“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali along the sea, beyond the Jordan River.
This is Galilee where the non-Jewish people live.
These people who live in darkness will see a great light.
They live in a place covered with the shadows of death, but a light will shine on them.”
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Change your hearts and lives, because the kingdom of heaven is near.”
John the Baptist was Jesus’ older cousin. Jesus had known John all his life, and although their style was different they were both radical preachers who tended to upset the status quo. When John was imprisoned, Jesus must have read the signs and known that his own life was in danger. He might have done what many people do in the face of bullying: given in to fear and toned down his act. The victims of bullying often seek to make themselves less visible, and their lives become smaller.
Jesus’ response, though, was neither one of counter-aggression nor shrinking fear. Instead, with a mixture of pragmatism and determination, he moved to another part of the country, making himself safer for the time being. And there, far from becoming less visible, he chose this moment to expand the scope of his gospel to include not only his own people, but the whole world. He went amongst “outsiders” to live and preach the good news of the kingdom of God to an even wider audience.
His brush with the bullies was a real threat – but he refused to be made smaller and became even more inclusive with his gospel.
Lord, help me never to give in to bullies. Make me wise enough to avoid unnecessary trouble, stubborn enough to live my life anyway, and loving enough to include outsiders in my vision of the gospel. Amen
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Matthew 4 v 18-20
As Jesus was walking by Lake Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (called Peter) and his brother Andrew. They were throwing a net into the lake because they were fishermen. Jesus said, “Come follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” So Simon and Andrew immediately left their nets and followed him.
Earlier in this chapter (v 8-11) is the story of how Jesus refused the temptation to control people, or coerce them into becoming his followers. Instead, he allowed himself to become a servant to those whom he loved. These verses now show us the result of overcoming that temptation: Jesus became a magnetic person and a natural leader. By refusing to be a manipulator, Jesus became the embodiment of an enormously liberating message, and consequently people flocked to follow him.
If we want to lead people into the kingdom of God, we too need to overcome the temptation to control people. The only way to lead people to God – to “fish for people” – is to become like Christ ourselves. We don’t need to coerce or manipulate people, or preach a demanding and bullying kind of message. All the preaching in the world will be ineffective if our lives don’t match up to the words we say. Jesus’ gospel of liberation was completely convincing because he lived – he WAS - what he said, and consequently he treated people in a gracious and liberating way.
If we want to lead others to discover God’s love, we don’t need to polish up our evangelism techniques, we simply need to become more like Jesus Christ. If we treat people with the same kind of grace, freedom and respect Jesus did, sooner or later others will want to follow the same God that we do.
Lord, by your grace, make me more like you. May I see you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen
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Matthew 4 v 21-22
As Jesus continued walking by Lake Galilee, he saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. Jesus told them to come with him. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and they followed Jesus.
The previous reading (Matthew 4 v 18-20) showed Jesus’ disciples leaving their livelihoods and responsibilities to follow him. Here we see Jesus calling people away from their family ties. There are plenty of over-the-top religious cults that take this kind of story literally, encouraging people to abandon their careers and families in order to commit their lives to their community. But other parts of scripture teach us to take our responsibilities to family, livelihood and property seriously. What are we to make of this Bible passage, then?
Firstly, I think the story highlights the all-consuming excitement that comes at moments of revelation. These disciples seem completely entranced by Jesus – at that moment, nothing else mattered more than following him. There are times in our lives when it is good and right to be completely absorbed in new ideas, particularly such life-changing ideas as the person of Jesus Christ.
Secondly, I think the story suggests that it’s only when you’ve discovered the capacity to leave everything to go for what’s really important, that you gain sufficient perspective to fit all the other parts of your life into their rightful place. To love your family or career is great, but to be controlled and limited by an over-developed sense of responsibility is not. Adults shouldn’t be completely controlled by family or career concerns. If they are, perhaps they need some epiphany to get them to put down their nets and follow Jesus. God does not call us to abandon society or neglect the people we love, but he does call us to follow him first, and only then will we have sufficient perspective to love and serve our world.
Dear Lord, give me the courage to follow you wherever you will take me, and the wisdom to know when to return to responsibilities. Amen
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Matthew 4 v 23-25
Jesus went everywhere in Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the Good News about the kingdom of heaven, and healing all the people’s diseases and sicknesses. The news about Jesus spread all over Syria, and people brought all the sick to him. They were suffering from different kinds of diseases. Some were in great pain, some had demons, some were epileptics, and some were paralysed. Jesus healed all of them. Many people from Galilee, the Ten Towns, Jerusalem, Judea and the land across the Jordan River followed him.
The fourth chapter of Matthew begins with Jesus’ temptations, and ends with him having a vast following of people. From being alone in the wilderness (read v 1-11), working out his personal faith and priorities, he had gained some friends (read v 18-22) and now began a ministry that brought him fame and recognition.
Notice, though, the apparent difference of priority between Jesus and his followers. Jesus taught and preached, and healed sickness. But his fame spread principally because of the healings, and people came from far and wide to watch or receive the miracles. It’s all too human to look first at what we need or want – less pain, more benefit. And there’s nothing wrong with bringing our needs to God – we see from the story that Jesus gave the sick people what they needed. But elsewhere Jesus said that he was seeking for those who didn’t just want to know him for the miracles he could do.
Let’s get involved in the teaching, the preaching – the person of God and what God is all about – and not settle for merely having our needs met.
Dear God, help me to see beyond my immediate needs and search for you. Amen
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Matthew 5 v 1-4
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a hill and sat down. His followers came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:
“Those people who know they have great spiritual needs are happy, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Those who are sad now are happy, because God will comfort them.”
These verses are the beginning of a long section of Matthew’s gospel known as “The Sermon on the Mount” – a long section of the teachings of Jesus, which many people believe is Matthew’s summary of quite a number of Jesus’ teachings rather than an actual sermon. Either way, it gives us an account of the things Jesus taught his disciples. And the first few verses, – sometimes referred to as “the Beatitudes” - are a list of things that make you “happy” or “blessed”.
In these verses, the word “happy” or “blessed” doesn’t refer to a surface, shallow happiness - it’s not the kind of happiness you get from buying a new pair of shoes or going on a great date. Instead, it’s a deep-down contentment and confidence that what really matters is OK. You might have a bad day in the kingdom of God; you might even have a bad year. But you can still know deep down that things are never hopeless, never beyond rescue, never beyond the help and healing of God. Christians are no more or less happy or lucky than anyone else – life is the same kind of lottery of good stuff and bad stuff for all of us. But when you know God, you can always know a degree of peace and joy deep down, even when everything on the surface goes pear-shaped.
Jesus didn’t say “Follow me and you’ll always be happy”, but “Those people who know they have great spiritual needs are happy.” It sounds like a contradiction – but Jesus wasn’t so much guaranteeing us happiness as redefining it. Happiness is not a trivial, surface emotion that can be wiped out in an instant, but a deep-down state of peace and confidence that God is with us, come what may.
Lord, thank you for your faithfulness and love. Please help me to understand the kind of peace and happiness that comes from knowing you, no matter what my circumstances. Amen
word-on-the-web uses the Scripture text taken from the Youth Bible, New Century Version (Anglicised Edition) copyright 1993 by Word Publishing Milton Keynes
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