Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11 (Lent 1: Series A)
Indeed, Jesus has come to rule the nations, but He will do this by submitting to His Father’s will, not Satan’s.
“It’s amazing what you discover about yourself,” he said. Chad was the father of two who lost his wife to cancer. For years, he had been oblivious to all his wife had done.
He recalls what it was like before his wife died. He would take the kids grocery shopping on a Saturday. It was his “dad” thing. They would go through the aisles, spontaneously planning a meal or picking up snacks in anticipation of a soccer game that weekend. It was fun, impulsive... but nothing like the carefully planned shopping his wife would do every week.
Now, however, he was shouldering the responsibility his wife had carried for years. At times, he felt lost, overwhelmed. But slowly life changed for him. He shifted responsibilities at work in order to take care of responsibilities at home.
Reflecting on the past three years, Chad saw he had changed. As he said, “It’s amazing what you discover about yourself.” This time of suffering had shaped him. He became a much better father and was definitely more invested in the lives of his kids. He missed his wife terribly. He wished she were there, so he could share with her the better man he had become.
Suffering can shape us. God can take trials in our lives and use them for His good purposes. Ask Israel who learned God provides by being tested for forty years in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 8:3). Ask the apostle Paul who learned God’s grace was sufficient for him through a thorn in his flesh (2 Corinthians 12:9). Ask Matthew who wants us to see who Jesus is by contemplating His temptations.
In our gospel reading, Matthew records a series of temptations for Jesus. Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. As Matthew records these temptations, however, he reveals something to us about Jesus. Matthew shows us the utter depth of Christ’s love: His dedication to God’s mission that He save the world by suffering (Matthew 1:21). Of course, as God, Jesus did not need this discovery, but we do.
As you read the temptations, notice how Matthew has ordered them. The three temptations move outward, like ripples from a stone thrown into a pond. They grow in ever expanding circles and reveal the extent of Jesus’ rule.
The first temptation is of Jesus regarding Himself. Satan comes upon Jesus after forty days of fasting and tempts Him to do something for Himself. God has not prohibited Jesus from eating. Eating, itself, is not a sin. If Jesus truly is the Son of God, then He can use His miraculous powers to turn stones into bread. Satan tempts Jesus to use His divine power to care for Himself.
But Jesus did not come into this world to care for Himself. He came to care for you. His power would be made known in His weakness, as He offered His life for you. So, Jesus reveals that He lives by self-denial. He rules His life by denying Himself in order that He might give all He has for you.
But Jesus did not come into this world to care for Himself. He came to care for you.
The second temptation is regarding Jesus’ role as Israel’s Savior. Israel has long struggled with seeing, believing, and worshipping her God. Satan tempts Jesus to place Himself on the highest point of the Temple, so He is in view of all Israel and to cast Himself down. By doing this, He will reveal Himself to Israel as the Son of God, for God the Father will deliver Him. He will send His holy angels to rescue Him, lest He dash His foot against a stone. Israel will finally see and worship her God.
But Jesus will not rule Israel by a display of power. He will rule over Israel in His weakness. Battered, bruised, and bloody, He will die on a cross underneath a sign which says, “Jesus of Nazareth. The King of the Jews.” Jesus will be Israel’s Messiah not by falling from the Temple, but by raising a new one. He will build that temple on His death and resurrection, the foundation of God’s love which restores all things.
The third temptation concerns Jesus’ role as Lord of the Nations. Satan takes Jesus to a high mountain and reveals to Him all the kingdoms of the world. Satan will give these to Jesus if Jesus falls down and worships him.
Indeed, Jesus has come to rule the nations, but He will do this by submitting to His Father’s will, not Satan’s. He will be the Lord of all nations when He receives them from His Father’s hand. His death will take the punishment for all sin, for all people, for all time, and His resurrection will bring life and restoration to all things. By bowing to the will of His Father, He will rise to bring the news of salvation to the ends of the earth. Jesus will one day stand on a mountain and send out His disciples in God’s mission to make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them and by teaching them, and bringing the good news of salvation to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:16-20).
Today, at the beginning of Lent, we remember the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when He was tempted by Satan. In that temptation, Jesus has revealed the mystery of His Kingdom. Jesus did not come to save Himself and accomplish His will. He came to sacrifice Himself, so He might accomplish His Father’s will and bring us to experience the full extent of God’s love.
This mystery revealed at the very beginning of Christ’s ministry is what we will contemplate more clearly as we gather throughout the season of Lent.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Matthew 4:1-11.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Matthew 4:1-11.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Matthew 4:1-11.