Welcome back and I hope that you are well today! If you are a new visitor to our site today, and you haven’t read any of the previous posts yet I would recommend going back and doing so before proceeding with this post, as this is a chapter by chapter reading and study of the book of Matthew. Matthew 4 is where we really start to get into the substance, the meat if you will, of the preaching and teaching of Jesus. It begins with the temptation of Jesus by Satan and ends with an overview of the beginning months of his ministry. It has always been interesting to me how the authors of the 4 Gospel books differ in which stories they chose to tell, the order, and the level of detail in which they tell them. One reason for this is that the Author of one book may have been targeting a specific audience whereas another may have been targeting a different audience. It wasn’t until much later (100-400 AD) that the books began to be gathered together and were combined into what we now call the New Testament Canon. There are however certain events, parables, and teachings that are nearly verbatim through several or all of the books and I will attempt to call those out from now on as they obviously carry special significance. So without any further delay or ramblings from me, let’s open our minds and our hearts to the word:
The Temptation of Jesus
4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3 The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 saying 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,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”
11 Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee
12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali,
on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—
16 the people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light,
and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death
light has dawned.”
17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[b]
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
18 As he walked 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. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus Ministers to Crowds of People
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. 24 So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. 25 And great crowds followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
Wow, pretty powerful stuff happening here in Matthew 4 right? Let’s start with the first section, titled “The Temptation of Jesus”. This story is common among 3 of the 4 Gospels, it can be found Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-13. This passage is fairly straight forward but I would like to note that as shown in verses 5-6 that even Satan or someone who is evil or has evil intentions can and will quote and distort scripture to suit their needs. This is the pitfall (especially in todays world of memes, tweets, and one liners) of people using bits of scripture to justify something. Generally speaking, you could find a piece of scripture in the Bible somewhere to distort and justify just about anything, which is why it is so very important to know the entirety of the story, or book(s) surrounding the scripture. It is especially important to know the teachings of Jesus found in the Gospels as they represent the new covenant and supersede the teachings of the old covenant (old testament).
Jesus begins his ministry 12-17: There seems to be a large jump in time and story in the account of Matthew that thankfully is filled in by the other Gospels, particularly the book of John. Again, the Bible in general, and the book of Matthew in particular, were never meant to be historical chronologies of the life of Jesus. The intention was to highlight his teachings, acts, and the events that surrounded them in order to persuade and teach others. Apart from the quoted Prophecy in verses 15-16 (from Isaiah 9:1-2) the most likely reason for Jesus moving to Capernaum was that it was more centrally located and contained a very diverse population in comparison to Nazareth and even Jerusalem. The port city of Capernaum with it’s more central location, on a well established trade and pilgrimage route, would have made an excellent base of operations from which multitudes could be easily accessed and taught. As we discussed earlier, The author of Matthew likes to make multiple references to the Old Testament Prophets in an effort to convince readers of the time that Jesus and the new religion of Christianity were foreshadowed by the old testament and are a natural successor to Judaism. While I agree whole-heartedly with this assertion, I do have to wonder sometimes if maybe occasionally the author of Matthew didn’t overreach or bend scripture to prove the point. Refer back to the commentary above about cherry picking scriptures. Regardless, I have faith with or without old testament prophecy that Jesus is God made flesh, I don’t need the prophecy to prove that to me in the way that the people of the first centuries did.
Jesus calls the first disciples 18-22: This is probably one of my top 5 favorite events in the life and story of Jesus. Can you imagine what charisma Jesus must have had that these hardworking fishermen would just give up everything they knew and had worked for their entire lives to go follow a stranger, a lowly Nazarene Carpenter. It’s so incredible to think of, especially in this modern age when people can’t even give up an hour or two a week to attend Church services, or have compassion for the poor and rejected, that Jesus expected them and us to give up everything to follow in his loving and life giving ways…but I digress. Entire sermons can and have been given on this passage and you will find this story almost verbatim again in Mark 1:16-20 but a different version appears in John 1:35-51. It is also important to note that Jesus does not go out and pick an “A” team of movers and shakers to help him spread the good news, he’s not calling Lawyers, Politicians, Religious leaders, etc. He is forming his team out of the hard working everyday poor people, the marginalized, the rejected for his ministry. Yet, his life and teachings changed the world and will hopefully change it once again.
Jesus Ministers to the Crowds 23-25: This passage is pretty light on specifics but it does help to illustrate how quickly and impactful this ministry was. The other 3 Gospels do a good job of filling in the details and even more details will be found later in this book.
REFLECTION: How do you think you would have faired during the grueling temptation by the Devil? How do we fail to resist temptation in our daily lives? What are your thoughts on the “cherry picking” of scriptures? Having read the surrounding context in which a certain scripture is found, and in the light of the whole message of Christ, did it perhaps change your opinion of the meaning of that scripture? If you were to begin a ministry or movement to change the world, who would you pick? How does this chapter speak to you?