January 16 – Matthew 4:1-11

With service cancelations we ended up a week off from the sermon series, so you can either do the discussion below out of Matthew 4:1-11, if you haven’t already, or you can do the CG check in discussion out of Acts 2.

This week we’ve got a front row seat on a cosmic showdown, and don’t let any familiarity with the passage make you miss the action. In Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus and Satan go head on in a game of wits, and Satan starts out with the home field advantage. And though this week we’ll look primarily at the contest and Jesus’ victory, it’s worth mentioning what surrounds the passage. Back in 3:15 we saw that Jesus is “fulfill[ing] all righteousness,” and just after this in 4:17 Jesus comes preaching his kingdom. Everything Jesus does here has to do with his work of redemption and ushering in his own kingdom, and we get to see the Son of God emerge victorious on Satan’s own turf.

But don’t think that Jesus’ divinity somehow made his battle any easier. Hebrews 4:15 assures us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” It’s not as if Jesus was just human enough to count but not human enough to know what it’s like to live our kind of life. And this is crucial for his work on the cross as well; Gregory of Nazianzus once said, “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” If Jesus was not tempted as we are, if obedience was somehow effortless for him, then that endangers our understanding of his righteousness in our place and our hope that Jesus can actually understand our needs. The incarnation, God become man, is a mystery, but however we square the union of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus it must not rob us of the enormous human effort of his work on earth.

That’s why Jesus engages in this battle with the devil as a man. No angelic legions, no lightning bolts, just a man near starvation with the word of God in his mouth. It may seem like a no-brainer that Jesus would quote scripture, but keep in mind that he’s the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He could’ve pronounced whatever he wanted and it would’ve had equal authority with the Bible. But instead of turning to the weapons at his disposal he turns to the same weapon we have at ours: the word of God. Even while near the brink of death Jesus was modeling for us what true obedience and strength looks like by relying on the same strength God provides us.

But Jesus was also “fulfill[ing] all righteousness” as he told John at his baptism. More than merely showing us what obedience looks like, he’s also completing obedience where ours has horribly lacked. And this goes all the way back to Adam; the parallels between Adam and Eve’s temptation in the Garden and Jesus’ temptation here are plentiful (both involve hunger, questions from the Enemy, the twisting of God’s words, and Satan promising what is only God’s to give). But the contrast is also striking; where Adam and Eve were in a magnificent Garden with all their needs met, Jesus was starving in a desert. Where our first parents couldn’t withstand one temptation, Jesus stood firm through three.

And while Adam and Eve had all the goodness of God awaiting their obedience, Jesus knew the road ahead of him was gruesome. For Jesus to properly gain the whole world, as Satan promises him in verse 9, it would require the cross. Satan promised Adam and Eve no crown they didn’t already have, but here he proposes that Jesus could have his kingdom without suffering for it. Again, let’s not skip past the legitimacy of this temptation. Can you imagine how enticing this must’ve been for Jesus, to think that he could somehow sidestep the cross, the wrath of his Father and the scorn of his people, and gain the people he so longs to save? If we think this was an easy-peasy decision for Jesus then we have no respect for the devastating reality of his death on the cross. To think that he had us in mind when he spat back, “Be gone Satan!” is a glimpse into the depths of his triumphant love for us.

Questions for Discussion

• Could someone read Matthew 4:1-11 for us?

• What stood out to you in this passage?

• Think back to Matt. 3:15; why did Jesus go through all this?

• How does this passage display both Jesus strength and weakness?

• How did Jesus emerge victorious here?

• One of the tough truths of the Bible is that Jesus was obedient where we have not been obedient. What is convicting about this passage to you?

• How can this passage give us hope for fighting temptation in our lives?