Read Matt 4:1-11.
Last time, I spoke from Matthew 2 and 3 and we covered repentance and how true repentance is demonstrated by fruit. Nothing else determines the authenticity of our repentance. Not sincerity, not emotions, not tears, not church attendance. Only fruit matters. So here in Matthew 4:17, right after the temptation of Christ, Jesus begins his ministry with the statement–“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Before we can talk about grace, before we can talk about salvation and eternity and God’s plan and purpose for your life, we have to talk about repentance. Repentance is shown by fruit, or in other words, changed lives. We see some signs of fruit in Matthew 4:18-22 where we have the calling of the first disciples.
Jesus preached repentance and some responded to that message by repenting and placing their faith in Christ. This repentance coupled by faith is demonstrated here by the disciples. To a bunch of fishermen, Jesus says, come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men. And how did they respond? v22, immediately they left the boat and they followed Jesus. Repentance – a turning away from a life of sin. And faith – a turning toward Jesus Christ. This is how one is saved.
That’s the context. Now, I want to make a few high level observations before we dive into this text. First, we need to link back these temptations of Christ with its Old Testament corollary.
One translation for the word temptation is testing. You can think of these temptations as one long test in 3 parts. Jesus’ testing was preceded by 40 days of fasting and that points back to the 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Israelites had been freed from slavery in Egypt.
Why does God give us tests? Is he like a professor in heaven and he likes to show us how smart he is and how dumb we are?
What was the purpose of the 40 years of desert wandering? The answer is given in Deut 8:2.
2 Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.
What commands are being referred to here? They were expected to obey one primary command, which is revealed 2 chapters earlier in Deut 6:5–
5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
So putting those two together, we see that the purpose of the wilderness wandering for 40 years was two-fold. One, it was to humble the Israelites and to test them in order for them to know what was in their heart. And two, it was to see whether or not they would obey the command to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and strength. And essentially, Jesus, as the true Israel, would undergo a similar testing in Matt 4. And unlike the nation of Israel, Jesus would pass his test with flying colors.
Another observation I want to make is concerning evil. Evil is real. Evil is not an abstract idea. Like inequality, or racism or injustice. Evil is a person, not a principle. Our modern conception of evil is either a horror movie, which is all special effects and therefore not real, or we conceive of evil as being some kind of cartoon-like figure with a red suit and a pitch fork. So if he is real, he is nothing to be all too concerned about.
The biblical picture of evil is personified by someone known as the devil. And the word devil is translated as “slanderer.” Someone who slanders you or speaks false things about you. For a believer, the devil is constantly whispering in our ears that we are not good enough for God. Or that we are wasting our time seeking God. Those are lies of the devil. In other references, the devil is a deceiver who masquerades as an angel of light. And look at what the devil is doing here. He is taking the Word of God and twisting it slightly so that it sounds pretty darn close to the original.
A third observation is the centrality of the Word of God. Jesus combats each of Satan’s temptations by saying, it is written, it is written, for it is written. He combats Satan’s twisting of the Word of God by using the Word of God correctly. For those of us who don’t know the Word of God well, we will fall prey much more easily to Satan’s lies. It’s not enough to get by with a high level understanding of the Word of God, or a paraphrased understanding or a ballpark understanding of the Word. Let’s be people of the Word. We have to meditate on it, we have to be students of the Word, we need to be teachers of the Word, we need to memorize it and use it as weapons and shields against the devil.
The fourth and final observation is the irony found in this section. This section is dripping with irony. Jesus, the man who would later give his own body as bread for many refuses to turn stones to bread to feed himself. Jesus, the man who refuses to save himself by invoking the name of God in this chapter will later be the Savior of the world. Jesus, the man who refuses to become a king by bowing down to Satan will soon become the true king because he reserved his worship for God alone.
Now, let’s look at the text.