Christ's Ministry Begins

Updated: May 2

Matthew 4

But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. Isaiah 9:1-2


Dear Christian,

In our last study, we talked about Jesus Confronting Temptation in the Wilderness. I intentionally chose the Gospel of Luke's account for that conversation because I knew we would be going into Matthew's account in this study. As we talk about Matthew's account of Jesus' temptation, I would encourage you to go take a look at that post and compare these two tellings.

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Matthew 4:1-3

Just before these forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, Jesus was baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him like a dove with the voice of God declaring, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased." Immediately then, in Matthew's account, the Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Why would the Spirit do this? I believe it's for the same reason that Jesus just explained to John that He should be baptized even though He had no sin to confess or repent of... Jesus said, "it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18

The temptation of Jesus shows us several things, first that He was fully human with human needs like hunger but secondly that He was also fully God able to survive without food for forty days and nights. Enduring that hunger and rejecting temptation Jesus responds,

But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

Having failed to tempt Jesus with hunger and pride in His ability to turn stones into bread if He so wished. Satan changes tactics.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Matthew 4:5-6

One thing I notice here as we compare it to Luke's account is that this second temptation in Matthew is the third temptation in Luke, but both temptations nearly verbatim are included in both accounts. With Jesus having just rebutted Satan's temptation with Scripture, it has always seemed deeply insidious to me that the Devil Himself decides then to quote Scripture twisting it to his own purpose to tempt Jesus.

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:7

Every time I've read Jesus' response to this temptation in the past, I've thought this meant that Jesus was rebuking Satan for tempting/testing Him. Yet, Jesus is quoting,

“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. Deuteronomy 6:16

Remember that we discussed what happened at Massah in our discussion on confronting temptation. The Israelites were failing to trust in God's goodness that He would provide for them in their present circumstances although again and again in the dessert He had already provided for their every need. If Jesus had agreed with Satan's interpretation of God's promise and flung Himself from the pinnacle of the temple it would have been a test of that promise... a test of God's goodness. Think of a time you've thought to yourself, "Well God I see this promise in your Word but I require proof. If I don't see You do it, I don't think You really can." Jesus' response instead calls us to remember that God is faithful from the very beginning and that His Word does not need to be tested to be found true.

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Matthew 4:8-9

Satan offers us the things we think we need or desire on his terms: comfort, wealth, power, safety, etc... as long as we're willing to forget the Word of God that gives us life, the faithfulness of God who provides our every need, and the sovereignty of God over our lives. Our enemy is thrilled beyond measure when we stumble putting our own desires on the throne of our lives where God belongs. Where you and I have fallen into this trap many times, Jesus wasn't having it!

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. Matthew 4:10-11

After this time of testing in the wilderness, Jesus returned to civilization only to be given the news that John the Baptist had been arrested. Instead of remaining in Judea, therefore, Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth in the hill country of Galilee and travels from there to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee where He begins to teach.

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

Here Matthew returns to that pattern of showing us how Jesus is the fulfillment of all that the Israelites have been promised in the coming Messiah. We find this prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-2 which I quoted at the beginning of this post. Instead of beginning His ministry in the "cultured" religious center of the region of Jerusalem, Jesus goes to this remote region where the people are common laborers and fishermen. They have no scholarly education in the Law of God nor any reason to justify themselves before God with long lists of good works. Like the people who first came out to John for the baptism of repentance, these people would have been all too aware of their own religious inadequacy as even socially they were looked down upon by other regions in Israel as uneducated and brutish. Yet, it is here that Jesus calls His first disciples to leave behind their old lives and follow Him.

While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22

We're used to news traveling faster than we can type today through the internet and many people spend a lot of time figuring out how to make their content go viral so that they can achieve some amount of fame. Now imagine that you're the gospel in a remote region of Roman-occupied Israel where news only travels as fast as someone traveling by foot, donkey, or horse to the surrounding regions. Yet the news of Jesus' teaching and His power to heal swept the world like wildfire. Great crowds came to hear Him and to be healed by Him, both Jews and Gentiles.

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:23-25

What does this mean that Jesus was proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom? We get the general answer to that question earlier in the chapter in Matthew 4:17 where it says that from then on He went about teaching saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This sets up perfectly where we're headed next in more detail, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

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