During the summer, we’re doing what any good TV network does and playing mostly reruns, working through previous episodes in Matthew’s Gospel. But for the next three days, we have some new material on Matthew chapter 4.
Read Matthew 4:1-11.
That was the story of Jesus being tempted while he fasts for 40 days. Where just after his baptism, Jesus quickly scoffs down some pancakes – I’m not Catholic, but I think that’s where they get that bit from – before the devil leads him out into the wilderness and tempts him three times. And each time he resist the temptation set before him:
- He refuses to break his time of fasting, and turn stones into bread – saying man shall not live by bread alone… and I’m still rather full from all those pancakes.
- He refuses to jump from the top of the temple to test whether God will protect him.
- He refuses to bow down to the devil in exchange for the world and its glory.
So finally the devil gives up and finds something else to do.
A great example for us when we are tempted, isn’t it! A great encouragement. As it says in Hebrews chapter 4:Heb 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.
Fair enough. Makes sense. But is that what Matthew’s story in chapter 4 is primarily doing? Giving us an example of how to resist sin? Of showing us that Jesus was tempted in the same way we are?
I mean, I don’t know how many times I’ve been out in the desert, starving hungry – knowing full well I can turn stones into bread – and found it hard to resist. But Jesus’ example is what gives me the strength.
Or the countless times I used to climb up onto the roof of the church and stare down, wanting to jump just to see if angels would catch me. Or my senior pastor. Only for him to have to talk me down with a loud hailer – begging me not to – because no-one else in the office knows how the computers work.
And let’s not talk about how often Satan has offered me world dominion…
Is this really what this story in Matthew’s Gospel is primarily about? An encouragement that Jesus has been tempted in the same way we are? When the closest I’ve come to any of those is when I’ve come home from work starving and wanted to turn a frozen lasagne into a cooked one instantly, rather than having to wait 50 minutes for it to cook in the oven?
If I were trying to come up with a series of temptations that showed Jesus went through what we do, I don’t think these would be top of my list. If I’d written Matthew chapter 4 – to be relevant to the kinds of temptations we experience today – it would have sounded a bit more like this:Behold, the devil didst take him to the wilderness and offered him cash in hand to avoid paying GST, if only he might falsify the invoice. Then the devil didst offer him a sense of feeling important and connected, if only he might pass on a juicy piece of gossip. And then the devil didst take him into a church foyer, and drew unto him an annoying person who verily didst not know when to shut up but would talk unto the age, and the devil said “I shalt give thee decent coffee, not that International Roast rubbish they serve in the hall, if thou wouldst only pretend to be busy and duckest into thine office.”
But maybe we’re getting a little bit too autobiographical with that third one. And I’m as confused as you are as to why I’d write it in King James English. Let’s move on.
While not denying the fact that Jesus’ temptations can be encouraging for us… Maybe, just maybe, this story is first and foremost about something else.
That’s what you can be thinking about over the weekend…
<to be continued>