We have worked our way up to the fourth chapter of Matthew. I know I have already said it, but it is important to remember both who is telling this story, and to whom he is telling it. Matthew, was a tax collector for the Romans. He would have been despised by the Jewish people as a traitor to their race, and it is to these people that he writes. But Matthew seems to be a bit of a radical, as he confronts the issues of the day, and of what it means to be the messiah.
In Chapter four of Matthew we read about the forty days in the desert and the temptation of Jesus. There are some strange things going on here. Once again, Jesus starts His ministry out in the desert, on the fringe. He is lead by the Spirit into the desert suggesting both the fact that Jesus was lead, and that He was lead to temptation. And we see the devil quoting scripture, which can have some interesting discussions in and of itself. And we see Jesus embark on a natural fast, though a very long one. We can discern from this that Jesus was a healthy man, not overly large, probably wirey with a bit of insulation, to become hungry again at forty days rather than 21 to 30 would mean he did have some stored fuel.
But I would like to look at the three temptations.
The first was after He became hungry to make the stones bread. Now we are talking about Jesus here, he made water into wine, and multiplied bread, what is the problem with this miracle? Why would this be wrong? He was hungry, and dangerously needed food, this seems like a fairly routine little miracle. But Jesus, became man and layed down his divine attributes. His reliance was on the Father and the Spirit, just like our is. In order for Jesus to access the miraculous on His own, He would have to deny the incarnation and put back on His "Godly attributes" This temptation was to stop being a man, and return to being self sufficient. Jesus cannot truly ask us to follow Him if He is not followable. But didn't He do many miracles later? No, He acted as a conduit for the Father and the Spirit, just like we are called to. Jesus tells us, "I only do what I see the Father doing" Jesus, just like us, prayed for the sick trusting in the Fathers power. Even the resurection is explained through this grid, "the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead gives life to your mortal bodies". (After service I was questioned about this a bit, and good on them for doing so, 'but Jesus was God' yes He was, but becoming man He of His own volition layed down His Godly attributes and lived as we do. I affirm the absolute divinity of Jesus, as I also affirm the absolute humanity of Jesus)
The second temptation was to throw Himself off the temple and allow God's angels to rescue Him. Satan uses scripture here. But Jesus resists the temptation to spectacular, by quoting scripture himself. In this Jewish culture expecting the Christ, the spectacular was expected. This would have given Jesus instant credibility among the elite Jewish leaders. It would have instantly created a cult of personality, and a head on fight with Rome. Matthew instead shows us the coming messiah, as a humble man that says, "look, please don't tell anybody" He isn't looking for press coverage, but rather is looking to lead a revolution from the fringes, from the margins. A revolution that starts in the hearts of small insignificant people, and communities that accept the vision for the kingdom of God, for a completely new way of living, and thinking and loving. This revolution will not be televised.
The third temptation Satan offers is basically the entire world, all of its kingdoms and all of its power and glory. Jesus doesn't dispute Satans ability to deliver this promise. But he stands strong against it. You see Jesus was not coming to win over all of the kingdoms of the world, but rather to bring the kingdom of God into the world, and overwhelm these contrary kingdoms. You see all of these other kingdoms, and their glory are lead by the god of this world. There is no kingdom that is not under the power of the temptor.
Remember again we are talking to a Jewish people, who looked at satan not as some demonic figure, but as an agent of God sent to tempt people. This is the ruler of this world, who lures us towards power. The power of influence, and fame, and money and political might. All of these kingdoms are offered to Jesus, I will give you these kingdoms if you worship me. But Jesus understands that His kingdom is not built on the powers, but exists only as our hearts and love is given over to God rulership. Jesus must follow God to the cross, that is the kingdom, the kingdom of God comes from sacrifice, and losing ones life for others. There is no short cut from the cross.
The problem with our modern church today is not our understanding of Jesus cross. I think we understand it very well. We understand the love of God through it, forgiveness through it, atonement, and judgement and prophetic fulfilment through it. Our problem is not in misunderstanding Jesus cross, but not recognizing our own. We are called to lay down our life, like Jesus did. Though we are alive, still sacrifice ourselves for others. Romans 12 explains that this is our call, to be living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God. I believe the devil tempts us the same way today, he asks us to surrender to the power of politics, and influence, to bring about the kingdom in another way, but the only way to bring God's kingdom is the cross. First through Jesus' cross, and now through our own. May we all find the truth in the scripture "she who seeks to find her life will lose it, and she who seeks to lose her life for my sake will find it"