Matthew was written to explain Jesus’ role as the promised sovereign king who brings about God’s Kingdom. Having read and believed in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, it is easy for us to acknowledge Jesus as King and Saviour. However, it was important for the author of Matthew to start with the genealogy of Jesus to persuade the original audience of this book regarding Jesus.
Through Jesus’ genealogy, the author made conscious effort to show the connection between Jesus to both Abraham and David. This was to indicate that God’s promises to them both would be fulfilled through Jesus.
“And I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you and make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.”
This was God’s promise to Abraham; that the nations would be blessed through his “offspring” (Genesis 12:18), who is none other than Jesus.
“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers,
I will raise up your offspring after you,
who shall come from your body,
and I will establish his kingdom.
He shall build a house for my name,
and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
2 Samuel 7:12-13
Because of this promise that the Lord gave to King David, people had definite hopes on a King to make Israel great again.
As we can see, the genealogy of Jesus is much more than just a long list of names or a historical record. It presents Jesus Christ as the climatic fulfillment of God’s promises of a coming king and a new reign.
JESUS CHRIST SAVES
“Jesus” means “The Lord is Salvation”.
“Christ” means “The Anointed One”.
In the olden days, names were given with a hope that it would be an accurate representation of a person. This was also why names were taken with utmost seriousness. Of course, we are not God and we have no way of ensuring that the child would grow to be as his name describes.
On the other hand, the sovereign and truthful Lord has the absolute right and power to ensure that the names he gives are sure indicators one’s character and destiny. The Lord gave the name “Jesus Christ” to His son. It is a proclamation to the nations that His son is the one anointed with God’s power to save us all.
JESUS CHRIST SAVES SINNERS
One might think that the lineage of Jesus is made up of glamorous, righteous and moral individuals; those worthy to be of royalty. However, the genealogy of Jesus tells us otherwise.
Ahaz (v9) worshiped the pagan Gods and practiced human sacrifice. Rehobam (v7) and Jeconiah (v11) were just as bad. There was also Manasseh (v10) who “did more evil than the nations”; he promoted the worship of idols and murdered the innocent so much so that the Lord drove him out of Canaan (2 Kings 21:9-18) Half of the Kings in the genealogy were truly wicked!
Towards the end at v.12, we see that Israel was suffering the consequences of sin – Jesus’ family lost their kingship and their wealth, having to deport elsewhere.
Jesus’ own people, His own family needed Him to save them from their sins! Jesus came not because mankind’s righteousness, but in spite of our sinfulness. Jesus came for (and through) the sinful, that we might be saved.
JESUS CHRIST SAVES BOTH JEWS & GENTILES
Jesus came not only for (and through) the sinful – He also came for (and through) the ethnically diverse. In the genealogy, the author of Matthew makes it clear that Jesus came through both Jews and Gentiles and will save both Jews and Gentiles.
Abraham was pagan; a Gentile until God called him and brought him into the covenant. God chose Abraham to establish his people, Israel, through His promise in Genesis 12:2.
Three out of four women listed in the genealogy were known prostitutes or adulteresses, and they were Gentiles. Rahab (v5) was a Canaanite from Jericho; Ruth (v5) was a Moabite; Bathsheba (v6) married a Hittite and was probably one herself.
Jesus had Gentiles in His family line!
What has it got to do with me?
Perhaps we need to remember that most of us are Gentiles, not Israelites – we were outsiders, not insiders. We were not God’s people (Israelites) at the start, and there was no reason for Jesus to die for mankind – not to mention Gentiles! Jesus’ death on the cross is so that we, the Gentiles could also be part of God’s family alongside all who believe. We are saved by God’s sovereign grace which extends to all sinners – through all nations! And therefore Matthew ends with the Great Commission:
“And Jesus came and said to them,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the
Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Therefore, as receivers of His sovereign grace and magnificent gift of salvation, let us be messengers of it as well!
While reading and studying the book of Matthew, let us give glory to our Lord Jesus Christ – the promised sovereign king that brings about God’s Kingdom which we all long for.
Joseph’s Trust and Obedience
Young Joseph had probably been looking forward to his wedding day, when he can finally marry Mary and build a godly family together with her. How confused, sad and shocked Joseph must have been when he found Mary, whom he loved, with a child! Could it be that she had an affair with another man? Was she not as pure and godly as he thought her to be all this time?
According to the law, the woman, if found to be in adultery, may face the punishment of being stoned to death in public. In those days, a betrothal is considered a legal engagement, and would last for about a year before marriage, even though the marriage has not been consummated. As Mary appeared to have conceived a child in adultery, she would possibly face death by stoning according to the law if Joseph had brought her out in public (Deut 22:13-21).
Joseph is a righteous man, and is well aware of the OT laws regarding sexual immorality. He would have struggled to make a decision as he sought to obey God through His law. Joseph eventually resolved to divorce Mary, but he remained compassionate towards her – the divorce would be done quietly (v19).
What Joseph did not know was that the child whom Mary was carrying was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in her womb (v18). Before he could actually carry out his decision, God sent an angel to reveal to him in a dream to take Mary as his wife. The angel also sent word from God that the baby she was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph was to name the baby boy Jesus, as he was the one the prophets have spoken about (v20-23).
Joseph woke up from his sleep, and we know from Matthew that he simply trusted and obeyed the angel’s commands without any doubt (v24-25). Joseph could have only been able to obey these seemingly radical commands by faith. Joseph was firmly persuaded that God is indeed with His people to save, and did not fear what people might think or say.
God used Joseph’s obedience to fulfill what He has spoken through the prophets of old. Jesus now became the legally adopted son of Joseph in the line of David, but not begotten of Joseph in the flesh. The birth of Jesus to the adoptive father Joseph and the virgin mother Mary validates both his legal right and supernatural heredity respectively as heir to David’s throne.
Jesus’ Obedience and Mission
Matthew shows us that Jesus was born into a world of sin in need of salvation. The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves” and comes from the Hebrew name “Joshua”. At that time when Jesus was born, there were many other boys named Joshua (or in Greek, Jesus). However, Jesus was also called “the Christ”. The word Christ means “Anointed” and is the Greek equivalent of “Messiah” – this is his official title. In addition, “Immanuel” (v23) describes who he is – “God with us”, in person (Is 7:14, 8:8).
These names allude to who Jesus is, and point to his mission in entering the world (v21): God is present with us through the exact representation of Himself in Jesus (Heb 1:3), and now speaks to us through His Son (Heb 1:2). Through Jesus Christ’s perfect obedience, the Son of God himself entered human history and became the Son of David. God’s presence is now made flesh among His people to purify them from their sins.
Jesus fulfills all of God’s laws with every inch of his being – his earthly ministry culminated in his obedience to death on the cross (Php2:6-8). By the sheer grace of God, Jesus bore the fearful wrath of God on our behalf. We have been redeemed from our sins through Christ’s perfect sacrifice, once and for all (Heb 10:12). Jesus is therefore worthy of our worship, because there is no other like Him who can redeem us from sin through perfect obedience to God.
“For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” – Romans 5:19
Obedience: A Fruit of Faith
A truly regenerate person is continually transformed by the Holy Spirit, and perseveres in obedience to the commandments revealed by God through His Word (Jn 3:16). Jesus himself said that if his disciples love him, they will obey his commandments (Jn 14:15). No one who has genuine faith in Christ will keep on sinning (1 Jn 3:9; Heb 10:26). A truly regenerate person is continually transformed by the Holy Spirit, and perseveres in obedience to the commandments revealed by God through His Word (Jn 3:16; Heb 8:10-12).
“And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient?” – Hebrews 3:18
Obedience is not merely an external conformity of behavior (think of the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked). A heart of disobedience refuses to submit to God. It is like a child who hates his father – he will either willfully ignore his father’s words, or worse, actively act in rebellion by doing the exact opposite just to make him angry.
King Ahaz (v9) was an example of a wicked king who willfully disobeyed God. Isaiah the prophet had brought news to Ahaz that God would deliver His people, but Ahaz refused to listen. He did not believe that the Lord would deliver him. Instead of seeking the Lord’s help in the face of threats from foreign nations, he turned away and sought the help of the Assyrian king (Isaiah 7).
On the contrary, a child who truly loves his father will not repeatedly do something knowing that it makes his father angry, but will gladly do whatever pleases his father out of pure affection. In the same way, a maturing believer with a Spirit-transformed conscience knows that his sins are an assault to God’s holiness. As a result, he will do all he can to obey God, resolving to fight his sinful ways and turn from the evil desires which he used to live by. His motivation for doing so is because he desires to worship and obey God more than he loves the deceitful pleasures of sin (1 Pet 1:14-16). A life of obedience to God’s commands is the fruit of genuine faith.
“Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.” – 1 John 2:4-6
Do we submit to the authority of God’s word (2 Tim 3:16-17)? Do we continue in Christian fellowship (1 Jn 2:19)? Do we give to a brother or sister in need (1 Jn 3:17)? Do we truly love one another, to even lay down our lives for each other (1 Jn 3:14, 16)? Do we correct disobedience amongst ourselves in church by demolishing wrong thinking and subjecting our thoughts to Christ (2 Cor 10:5)? These are but some areas according to God’s revealed will which we can examine ourselves to see if we are indeed bearing fruit in our faith.
God’s purposes were fulfilled through the perfect obedience of His Son Jesus, and the obedience of His people – Joseph and Mary! The obedience of God’s people by faith in this present age will continue to glorify Him and fulfill His purposes, until Christ returns again. Until then, let us persevere in His commandments. May the Lord strengthen our faith in Him – that we may increasingly bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matt 3:8), and worship him in Spirit and in truth (Jn 4:24).
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:12-13
The promised Messiah had come - the true king of the Jews. And of all people, the leaders of Jerusalem would have been in the best position to know of His coming. However, we are taken by surprise when the first political leaders who paid tribute to the king of the Jews were not even Jews - they were pagan wise men from a distant country.
Their job was to search and interpret the stars for heavenly signs for the royal court. It was through that pagan practice that they found out about the birth of the king of the Jews. Ironically, Herod and his officials had no clue the Messiah had even come, although they had the Scriptures!
As we examine the meeting between Herod and the wise men, we see two contrasting responses to the news of the birth of the King. What did their responses reveal about each party, and what do our own responses to God’s good news tell us about our own characters?
Reverence vs arrogance
To the wise men, they saw a great king worthy of worship. This King was worthy enough for them to prepare the entourage and costly goods required for such a long journey, even though he was not even the king of their own people (v 1)!
On the other hand, Herod was more concerned about his own political power. Herod would not give up his position to anyone, not even the true king of the Jews promised in all Scripture. The possible threat of losing his earthly throne deeply troubled Herod. A more accurate translation reads, "he was greatly agitated".
The wise men revered the true king with much sincerity. They took great effort to come from a faraway land to pay their tribute. This contrasts with the arrogance of Herod, who thought himself more worthy of the title “king of the Jews” and thought nothing of the true king of the Jews.
“He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
Faith vs unbelief
Herod heard the news of a lifetime, but he didn’t think much of it. He expressed false “desire” to worship the Messiah king (v 8), but it did not lead to any action on his part. He did not even bother to search for the Messiah king himself, but instead got pagans to do it for him.
The wise men, on the other hand, did not wait around for the Messiah king to reveal himself. As soon as Herod gave his instructions, they immediately left to search for the Messiah king (v 9).
True faith will lead to active worship. No one can say that he truly worships God but yet sits around without responding. As the author of James puts it, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (Jas 2:17) Worship is the natural outcome of faith, therefore faith cannot just remain as a mental state of belief, but is fully expressed in active worship.
The lack of faith is often passive. There is no personal desire to seek after God to worship. We brush aside God's word as foolish and irrelevant, and we do not study it rigorously. We see this after Paul preached the gospel in the Areopagus: some mocked Paul, but there were some who said “We will hear you again about this.” (Acts 17:32). They did not even bother to investigate further the claims of Paul through further discussion.
Joy vs malice
The good news left Herod a bitter, malicious man. Many people rejoiced at the good news of the messiah king, but all Herod could think of was the threat of losing his power as king of the Jews. He only wanted to preserve his own power, no matter what it took. Herod’s evil ambitions resulted in the massacre of all males who were 2 years and younger in Bethlehem (v 16).
For the wise men, the good news of the Messiah’s coming left them only with joy. And not just any joy, but exceedingly great joy (v 10). Here was a group of people who had minimal knowledge of Jewish Scripture. But whatever knowledge they had, paired with faith, produced within them much joy. Their joy was made complete as they worshipped the child King Jesus and offered their kingly tributes to him (v 11).
The things of God vs the things of the world
Here we see two contrasting pictures: a man who desires the things of the world, and another who desires the things of God.
The man who desires the things of the world thinks highly only of himself. All his achievements are to his own credit and all his possessions belong only to him. He says to himself “All these things are mine because I worked hard for them, I don’t need God’s help.”
He does not think that “spiritual” things are important, and does not see any point in knowing more about it because to him they are just foolish. “Church and Bible stuff” are just good moral teachings to him, but ultimately he decides for himself which values are acceptable and which are not important.
When God’s demands for righteousness threaten his possessions, fame, power or way of living, this man is filled with bitterness and anger. Even when outwardly he looks like he is obeying God, inwardly he resents following God’s commands.
As for the man who desires the things of God, he recognises that Jesus is the true ruler of his life. He says to himself “All things ultimately belong to God. All that I am and all my possessions are only mine because they were given to me by God. They are for me to use for His purposes and glory.”
He understands that only God, and not himself, is worthy of worship and full obedience, so much so that nothing is too much effort when it comes to worshipping and obeying God. He actively participates in his own spiritual growth instead of just “leaving it to the church”.
God’s demands for righteousness only drive him to act in repentance and obedience with a sincere heart. He desires to live according to God’s commands in Scripture instead of insisting on his own values. Such faith and works only serve to produce great joy inwardly and true worship outwardly.
Which man are you?
Let us then examine ourselves with all honesty: which man are you? How do you think of your own achievements and possessions? Do the things of God even appeal to you and do you act on it? What are your attitudes towards Scripture, especially when it speaks against certain sins in your life, or even your way of living? Honest answers to these questions will reveal our true desires.
If we are found to desire the things of the world, it is never too late to turn away from such desires. The apostle John writes that whoever confesses his own sin, God is faithful and just to forgive that person (1 Jo 1:9). Confession involves a heartfelt, sincere understanding of the sin, resulting in the desire to turn away from it. The next step is to make all efforts to live in obedience to God’s commands, and God promises to work on our will and desires from within (Php 2:12-13).
If we find ourselves desiring the things of God, praise God! Let us then strive to build up the body of Christ by guiding, correcting and encouraging other fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to desire and obey the ways of the Lord (Eph 4:15-16).
As we continue to grow in our desire to please God and our understanding of His worthiness, may we find exceedingly great joy as we respond in worship and obedience to God, just as the wise men did.
Matthew 1-2 introduces Jesus as the legitimate Messiah of Israel and the fulfillment of Scripture. The second half of Matthew wraps up this introduction. However in this segment, Matthew focuses on the opposition against Jesus, his fleeing into exile and his return to an obscure place.
By doing this, Matthew gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ life and ministry, where he will be met with much opposition and people would despise him for his apparent “lack of splendor” (amongst many other reasons).
As we examine the 3 Old Testament quotations that he fulfilled, what can we learn about Jesus?
Called Out Of Egypt
The first prophecy is that God called his son out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1). Matthew 2 describes Joseph bringing Jesus and Mary and fleeing to Egypt to escape the clutches of Herod (14). Hosea’s prophecy describes their return from Egypt. Jesus returned from Egypt, so as God’s son he was “called out of Egypt”.
How does the Jesus fulfill the prophecy then? Did Hosea mean to prophesy about who the Messiah was going to be?
In actual fact, Hosea was not referring to Jesus in his prophecy. Rather, he was referring to how God would call Israel out of Egypt as his own people, or his “son”. Israel was in exile in Egypt. God called Israel out of Egypt, out of exile – to start his original covenant with them. In the same way, God called Jesus out of Egypt, and it was through Jesus that God would start his new covenant with us.
So this prophecy is meant to be symbolic. God called Israel out of Egypt – but that was a foreshadowing of Jesus. Jesus fulfills this scripture and takes on the role of Israel.
Rachel Weeps for Her Children
The second prophecy can be found in Jeremiah 31:15, where Jeremiah describes the anguish of Israelite mothers as their sons were led off into exile. Jeremiah uses “Rachel” to represent / personify all these mothers, since her own sons, Joseph and Benjamin, had also been threatened with being “no more” (Genesis 42:36).
Matthew now applies this passage to the mothers in Israel as they mourned over their sons who were massacred by Herod (16). In this way, Jesus fulfilled this prophecy, as his appearing prompted Herod to massacre these children and fulfilled the prophecy, as “Rachel” wept for her children.
He Shall Be Called A Nazarene
The third and final prophecy in this segment is not as clear cut. We read that Joseph was instructed to return to Israel, but he chose to settle in Galilee instead of Judea. What is the significance of this? Why did Joseph choose one city over the other?
The answer lies in the ruler of the county. Herod’s son, Archelaus, reigned in Judea and he was known to be as cruel as his father. We read that Joseph was afraid to go to Judea (and rightly so!) and at the same time he was warned in a dream (22). So Joseph brought Jesus and Mary and settled in Galilee.
What is the significance of Jesus going to Galilee?
Matthew says that Jesus went and lived in a city called Nazareth, fulfilling the prophecy that "he would be called a Nazarene” (23).
Putting It All Together
So what was the significance of Jesus being called a Nazarene?
Ironically, the significance of Jesus being called a Nazarene is that it actually portrayed him as being insignificant. Nazareth was a lowly, despised place. People did not think anything good could come out of Nazareth (John 1:46). “Jesus of Bethlehem” may have sounded more royal and majestic. “Jesus of Nazareth” sounded derogatory and insulting. “Jesus the Nazarene” was a most unremarkable name and did not carry fame or renown.
So then, did Joseph make a mistake in settling in Nazareth instead of Bethlehem? Did he ruin Jesus’ reputation?
This is not the case. God’s plan from the start was that Jesus would come, not with grandeur and glory, but that he would be lowly and despised (Isaiah 53). The prophets pointed to a Messiah who would be despised and rejected, and Jesus fulfilled this, through his obscure background and by growing up in lowly Nazareth.
The fulfilment of the third Scripture quotation tells us something about Jesus and his ministry. He did not come with splendor and majesty. He did not consider equality with God something to be boasted of. Instead he humbly did the will of his father while he was on earth. And through his ministry, many were saved and lifted up. God used an obscure man with an “unimportant” background to accomplish his purposes. And Philippians 2 reminds us that God exalted him for his obedience.
This has implications for us as followers of Christ. It means that our lives, like our Lord, will be characterized by lowliness and insignificance. When we share in Christ’s lowliness, we are sharing in his life. We will be considered lowly and despised. But nevertheless, we can take encouragement from the fact that suffering, rejection and even death are never the final word – not for Jesus, and not for his disciples. But they must come before our exaltation.
Furthermore, the first two scripture quotations that Jesus fulfilled show us that Jesus is indeed the awaited Messiah. Matthew spared no effort to demonstrate that Jesus is the Savior who was prophesied in Jewish tradition.
How are we responding to this? Do we approach Jesus and the scriptures as mere knowledge? Are we convicted by the truth that Jesus fulfilled these promises of God and many more?
Knowing these prophecies and learning how Jesus fulfilled them increases our faith. We see how Jesus fulfills God’s promises of a new covenant. We see how God works through his lowly, despised son to save his people. We trust Jesus to save us from our sins. We worship him for doing what nobody else could. And we give thanks and praise to God who has fulfilled all these promises in Jesus. We know that we have a God who is powerful and able to do what he has promised and that brings us great joy.
Introducing the one who is introducing our Lord
In keeping with Matthew’s theme of fulfilment, he gives the record of John the Baptist fulfilling the scriptures as the one preparing the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus. He fulfills the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3 as the “voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”
So what was this work of preparing the way of the Lord?
The account Matthew that gives us was that John was preaching, calling people to repentance and baptizing them.
The offense of the baptism of John
Baptism at that time was understood as an initiation right for Jewish converts who came from a Pagan background. This makes John’s baptism very offensive to the Jews. John calling the Jews to be baptized was implying that unless the Jews were willing to repent, they were not in God’s family according to birthright and they were not in possession of the promises and blessings of God.
These are the same Jews who knew the Law of Moses by heart! They knew what was written in Genesis 17:7 “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Who does John think he is by telling the sons of Abraham what they should be doing?
A lesson from the Jews
It should make us tremble to think that the Jews were a people who had a strong consciousness for God while also strongly onto the belief that God will fulfill his promises. However, these people were nevertheless called a "brood of vipers" and threatened with eternal damnation.
Some of the Jews assume that by virtue of their birthright, God is obligated to bless them because of the promises made to Abraham. He must bless them. He can't pour out wrath on them, because he always keeps his word. Ultimately whether they are living a life of repentance or not, it does not matter. Such is the attitude of those who are not relying on the mercy of God, rather placing their trust in their earthly identification.
Your identity does not save
Here is a warning: We should never think that mere identification with a group (like being a Jew or even being a Christian) should obligate God to bless us. Our status as a child of God is not an entitlement that God is obligated to keep.
John says in verse 9, "do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘we have Abraham as our father, for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.’' What John is trying to show them is that God cannot be coerced into doing anything. John reasons that God is able in his absolute sovereignty and power to ‘raise up children from Abraham’ from rocks.
Verse 10 repeats the warning we have just seen. "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." There is no benefit in placing your trust in the kind of tree you are. If there is no fruit that is born from repentance, the tree is useless; it will be destroyed. It doesn't matter if the tree is Jewish or Gentile; what John the Baptist is calling for is for all trees to bear the fruit of repentance.
Who do you place your trust in?
As followers of Jesus, we put our trust in our Lord and savior. We do not expect God to be obligated to bless us or help us live good lives just because we brandish our status as Children of God. Neither should we feel that God is indebted to us because we have done righteous and good acts in his name.
We actively turn away from anything we have done, we turn away from who we are, and instead rely wholly on the boundless mercy and grace of God that He lavishes on us freely.
Jesus the Son of Man
The term “son of man” is used to describe the humanity of Jesus. Jesus uses it to refer to himself in his earthly ministry and his future death, exaltation and coming as judge and Saviour (Matthew 9:6).
Yes, Jesus is God. Yet He is also fully man at the same time. Jesus has a human body (Luke 24:39), a human mind (Luke 2:52), and a human soul (Matthew 26:38). Jesus is fully man with complete humanity, wholly tempted as we are (Hebrews 4:15).
It is important for us to affirm the incarnation of our Lord Jesus and His complete humanity. With this knowledge, we can be certain that Jesus was fully tempted as we are and in fact, was repeatedly tempted with the things common to man. Luke 4:13 makes it clear that “when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
The word “tempt” in Matthew 4 means to test, to put someone through a period of testing. As Christians we face temptations throughout our Christian journey.
The temptations that Jesus faced were higher in intensity not only because He never gave in despite having to face the full brunt of the temptations, but also because He was in a situation that made it harder for him to overcome them by human strength alone.
Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden, where everything was beautiful, perfect and good. They had everything they needed. Yet they gave in to the trickery of Satan. Jesus on the other hand was in the wilderness, having fasted for 40 days and He was hungry. May we be encouraged by the fact that Jesus overcame real temptation and rose victorious over Satan.
The temptations that Jesus faced of self-gratification, self-protection and self-exaltation are the same ones that we face every day.
The Temptation of Self-Gratification
Every day, we seek to satisfy our own selfish desires. From purchasing bags to cars to anything that we hold of importance such as getting good grades, going on holidays etc. We not only want gratification but seek for instant gratification in ways that dishonour God (James 5:2-7).
The temptation for Jesus was a trying one; he fasted for 40 days in the wilderness and was hungry. He not only wanted but also needed food. It was something of utmost importance for survival rather than a luxury.
Satan tempted Jesus by seemingly doubting his authority as God. “If you are the son of God” (v.3), he said. However, Jesus is indeed the Son of God and it is within His power to make bread for himself. Satan was essentially saying: “If you’re really God, why don’t you use your authority to turn stone into bread? You have every right to use this power for your own needs!” However the underlying deception was that using one’s gifts for self-gratification, outside of God’s purposes, was dishonoring to the Lord our God.
Jesus’ response to Satan was “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (v.4). The word of God is food for our soul, which is far more important than food for our bodies. Jesus turning stones into bread would mean abusing His authority by taking matters into His own hands instead of obeying and trusting in the Father for provision.
Let us not take matters into our own hands when seeking our own gratification, but instead rely on God’s provision just like Jesus did even in His most dire moment.
The Temptation of Self-Protection
Using the trust that Jesus had in God and His word, Satan rolled out his next move. Satan says in v6. “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.’ ” In effect what Satan is saying is: “Since God promises that He will protect you, and you trust in Him, why don’t we test God to see if His promises are true?”
How is this the temptation of self-protection?
Knowing what comes in the future and the knowledge that all is within our control provides us with a sense of security. Put in the same situation, we would want to know for sure that God protects and provides for us, especially when we are hungry without food.
Jesus’ response to that temptation was “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test’ ” (v.7). Satan is right regarding God’s promise to Jesus. However, God’s word must be understood in its entirety. God said He will protect Jesus, but He also said that He is not to be tested.
By forcing God’s hand to react to a situation we create to test His trustworthiness, it demonstrates our faithlessness and distrust in God. We do this when we play with temptation like how we play with fire and say “You won’t allow me to be tempted beyond what I can bear, right God?”
One such example is when we date a non-believer and tell God, “Don’t you desire for all to be saved? Use me in this relationship for the salvation of this person.” Another example is when you get involved with shady businessmen and you say, “God you will protect me if anything goes wrong right?”
Let us not put God to the test! Instead of pushing the boundaries to test His protection and provision for us when we pursue our own desires, we should be relying on those promises to pursue God’s desires.
The Temptation of Self-Exaltation
Satan had one last temptation and did not coat it in sugar. He out-rightly offered Jesus the worldly Kingdom as stated in v.9 “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”
Note that this kingdom rightly belonged to Jesus! Satan did not have to give it to Him! In this case how is this a temptation? Jesus knows for a fact that the kingdom is His! But remember, Jesus also knows that the road ahead leading to such authority is filled with sorrow, suffering, death (Platt, 2014) and separation from God the Father.
Jesus was faced with the temptation of instant gratification with regards to attaining authority, exaltation and worship. It was a shortcut towards getting what is rightfully His without waiting upon the Lord and trusting the Lord.
Jesus chose to live a life of suffering in worship to the Lord even though the Kingdom was rightfully His. And so his response to Satan was “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” (v.10)
Likewise, we who are believers are promised the kingdom of God and the blessings that come with it. However let us not forget that we are also called to a life of total submission and obedience to Jesus Christ our Lord by living in righteousness.
The Power to Overcome Temptation
Through these temptations, Jesus depended not upon himself, but by the spirit of God and by the word of God. Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (v.1). “It is written” was the defense of Jesus when faced with temptation, time and again. This demonstrated Jesus’ unwavering obedience and trust in the spirit of God and the trustworthiness of God’s word.
If we seek to overcome temptation by our own strength, we are making a grave mistake. By our sinful flesh, we can never win in spiritual warfare. Only through obedience and dependence on the Holy Spirit can we be victorious, as Jesus demonstrated when he was “led by the Spirit” into the wilderness and continued to be led throughout His earthly ministry.
Let us also “live by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Our resistance against temptation and our walk with God depends on it.
So how can we be victorious over the temptations in life? By relying on both the power of the Holy Spirit and the trustworthiness of God’s word as Jesus has demonstrated.
Jesus is our role model to learn from when facing temptations. Though faced with intense temptations of all kinds, He has defeated Satan and given us the Holy Spirit to do the same. So let us rely on the Holy Spirit and the word of God to win the spiritual warfare against our sinful desires and the temptations of the devil.
After Jesus had overcome the temptations in the wilderness, he was ready to begin his public ministry. In the meantime John the Baptist had been imprisoned for speaking against the sins of Herod the Tetrarch, John was imprisoned (Luke 3:19-20). This prompted Jesus to move from Nazareth to Capernaum (vv 12-13), which was in the northern part of Israel. This was also to fulfill the prophecy by Isaiah (vv 15-16).
While this may just seem like the fulfillment of a historical event, it meant so much more to the Jews back then. The prophecy, taken from Isaiah 9, described the coming of the Messiah. It detailed the nature of the Messiah: the great light, bringer of joy, triumphant deliverer, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, just and righteous king (Isaiah 9:1-7).
The beginning of Jesus’ public ministry was the proclamation of the coming of God’s heavenly kingdom, with Him as King. And Jesus began his ministry with the overarching message of His Gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (v 17).
The Gospel according to Jesus
The heart of Jesus’ message is a call to repentance. Repentance is not simply a big emotional outburst of sobbing and feeling sorry without actually changing anything. In fact, the Jews and Greeks at the time defined repentance as a change of heart, mind and actions. True repentance requires that we turn away from our sinful thoughts, intentions and actions, and turn towards the living God. It means that our thoughts, intentions and actions that are turn from rebelling against him to worshipping him.
And why is there a need for repentance? Because God’s kingdom is here! The just and righteous Messiah King will destroy all who rebel against Him, and He has come! The great light and bringer of joy to those who will believe in Him for salvation is right here with us! Here is presented to us either the biggest threat or the greatest delight to our souls.
It is not some new country that Jesus was founding. Instead it is a kingdom of spiritual brothers and sisters who have put their faith in Jesus Christ and do the will of God as a result (Matt 12:46-50). In God’s kingdom all are saved in Christ through one Spirit into one body (Col 3:11, 1 Cor 12:13). The borders are drawn not between lands, but between hearts - all who trust in Jesus as King of their lives, and the rest who do not.
The coming of the Messiah King also included the blessings of physical and spiritual healing (v 24). This was to demonstrate Jesus’ sovereignty in the heavenly kingdom that had come. Jesus calls us to be part of His kingdom. He calls us to repent from our sin - and this call demands our response.
Proclaiming Jesus’ Gospel
Jesus always spoke the truth and never minced His words. He never once said, “You are doing fine, just keep it up and you will somehow find your way into the kingdom of God.” Jesus was very honest about our need to repent. And our need to repent means that we are sinful, and nobody likes to be told they are wrong, bad or sinful.
However Jesus’ first disciples responded immediately and wholeheartedly without complaining about how insensitive His message was (vv 20, 22). And many were attracted to the gospel that Jesus proclaimed throughout Galilee and the blessings that came with it (vv 23-25), despite its supposedly offensive message.
In our modern culture of political correctness, we are socially expected to be “culturally relevant” and “sensitive”. As a result, we see Jesus’ gospel message being compromised in many churches today. The call to repent from sin is often drowned out by the messages of “You will be saved just by believing that Jesus exists”, “Jesus paid it all on the cross, therefore He has freed you to live however you want now”, and “Who are you to judge another person’s sins?”.
However, when the true message of the gospel is distorted, we need to proclaim Jesus’ gospel all the more! It is especially during this spiritual drought where people hunger and thirst for the truth found in the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
Yes we still need to present Jesus’ gospel in a way that is easy to understand, but the call to repent and to live according to God’s righteousness must remain at the heart of the message.
Responding to Jesus’ Gospel
We saw many who responded to Jesus’ call to repent and be part of His heavenly kingdom. But what is required of us when we respond to Jesus’ call to us?
A response to Jesus’ call requires us to follow Him (v 19). To follow Jesus means that we are to watch and learn through Jesus’ life, align our thoughts and priorities with those of Jesus, and to act according to the example that Jesus had shown through His life and ministry.
Responding to Jesus’ Gospel call may also require us to leave behind family and career. This includes worldly family culture and socially acceptable career progression.
One thing to note is that Jesus’ first disciples did not drop everything to follow Jesus because He casted some mystical hypnotism on them. Their decisions were well thought out and deliberate after having followed and observed Jesus for a time. Jesus Himself required that His disciples count the cost of discipleship before becoming His disciple (Luke 14:25-33).
Therefore let us reconsider once again what it means to repent. God’s kingdom and King Jesus, have come, and He calls us to repent. Let us also never shy away from proclaiming the message of repentance from sin and restoration to live in God’s righteousness.
And as we seek to respond to Jesus’ call to repent and be part of His kingdom, let us not be rash in making the decision to follow Him. Instead Jesus requires that we count the cost carefully before committing to an eternity of following Him and being gradually transformed into His image more and more.
The Sermon on the Mount describes life in the new kingdom
Matthew 5:1-16 forms the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29). This Sermon deals with the character of the Christian. It describes who the Christian is and what his life looks like.
The Sermon contains so many demands that we might mistakenly think it is a handbook of “good Christian behaviours” that we are to learn. However, after we study them carefully we realise that the demands in this Sermon are of such high standards that it is impossible to achieve – Jesus said we must be perfect, just as God is perfect (5:48). We cannot attain this standard, and therefore we cannot earn our salvation by obeying these demands. How then do we attain our salvation?
We attain it through Jesus. No one can achieve the standard except Jesus – he alone fulfills the demands of God perfectly. So it is through Jesus’ obedience that we receive salvation. He reaches the standard that we failed to reach, and by trusting him, we receive the righteousness that belongs to him.
When we receive his salvation, we receive new life from Jesus. We become his disciples. We learn from his ways and we want to live like him, and live for him. This community of disciples follows Jesus, and the Sermon on the Mount describes the way we should live our new lives with Jesus.
The Sermon on the Mount is for Jesus’ disciples
Who is the audience for this Sermon?
Jesus’ disciples are the intended audience. When he sat down, his disciples were the ones who came to him (5:1). And he opened his mouth and taught them – his disciples (5:2).
Later on Jesus says “blessed are you when others… persecute you… on my account” (5:11). Jesus is speaking to his disciples, since unbelievers would not suffer persecution for Jesus’ sake.
Jesus also says “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world”. These are metaphors for Christian and Jesus is clearly addressing his disciples.
It is clear that Jesus is speaking to those who are his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. At this point, he may be talking to the 12 disciples. However, as the 12 disciples went out to make disciples of all nations (28:18-20), more people received Jesus as Lord and Saviour. These people thus become disciples of Jesus.
Therefore, we are disciples of Jesus and we are also to take heed of his words in the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches us how to live as salt and light
Up to this point, the beatitudes have drawn the line between the disciples of Jesus and the world. Disciples live according to Jesus’ commands (which will be read in the coming weeks) which are described later on in the Sermon on the Mount. The world does not.
Jesus tells his disciples that they are salt of the earth and light of the world. What do these mean?
The importance of our public witness
Salt was used in ancient times to preserve food. Just like salt preserves food, God uses Christians as agents of preservation in society. Humans are sinful and rebellious towards God. If left unchecked, the world would become increasingly corrupt and depraved. As Christians, we are be salt in the sense of preventing corruption in society. We do not this by physical force. We do it by preaching the gospel. We call people to live transformed lives that worship the true God.
Salt that lost its saltiness was considered useless because it was unable to preserve the food. Similarly, Christians who are no different from the world they live in will be powerless witnesses. How can we call people to turn from their sins when we are continuing to live in our own sins?
A Christian who is stingy cannot possibly convince his neighbor to worship God instead of money. And how are we to persuade others that the bible is God’s word if we ourselves pick and choose at the verses which “suit us best”? And no one will be persuaded by a man who claims to love Jesus if he always talks about all his other hobbies without ever talking about Jesus. These people claim to follow Jesus but if they look just like the world, no one will listen to them. So the salt of the earth must not lose its saltiness.
Again, Jesus calls us light of the world. He says that no one lights a lamp an puts it under a basket (5:15), because that would be no use. Christians are to be public witnesses, as we have just learnt.
But this metaphor about light teaches us that Christians should not only live secret lives of devotion to Jesus that no one can see. We already know the importance of our secret devotion to Jesus. Our secret devotional lives are important, but it does not stop there. Our public faith starts with our secret lives. Our public lives are to reflect our secret devotion.
If we do not meditate on the bible, we will not share it with our neighbor. If we do not pray for one another, we will not rejoice when we see God work. To put it another way, when we are praying and reading the bible consistently, we cultivate our relationship with Jesus, and we will obey him both inwardly, and also outwardly in public acts of faith. We should be lights that shine in the world and give light – the light that comes from Jesus, who is himself the true light of the world (John 8:12).
And this is what Jesus means when he says, “let your light shine before others”. Does he mean that our light shines so that we receive the praise?
No, we are to let our light shine before others, so that they would see it and praise God (5:16). God deserves the praise for changing our hearts and doing the impossible work in us. No one else can do it. Only he can, and so only he deserves praise.
Jesus calls us to be salt and light (5:13-14), and he explains how we are to do this in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. May God show us his wonderful character, and may we rejoice at the happy privilege to live in his kingdom.
Some Christians say this
Have you ever heard this saying among Christians: “We are New Testament Christians, so we do not have to concern ourselves with the Old Testament.” Most people use this statement to explain why we don’t have to follow certain sections of the Mosaic law (especially the dietary laws that might potentially separate us from our favourite pork or shellfish dishes). When faced with difficult questions on the law of the Old Testament, some Christians would be quick to dismiss it.
What is your view regarding the Old Testament? Most evangelical Christians would have a high view of the New Testament, but Old Testament accounts are very quickly dismissed as archaic, complicated, confusing or just known as bible stories for Sunday school children.
In Matthew 5, Jesus gives us His view on (1) the Law and (2) the Prophets (this is how Jesus refers to the Old Testament). He says that he ‘did not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’ (v.17). The Old Testament is not negated by the first coming of the incarnate Son of God. Rather, the Law and the Prophets find their fulfilment in the person and the work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we should view the Old Testament the same way - that it finds its fulfilment in Jesus Christ.
Jesus came to fulfil the prophets, bringing to fulfilment the prophecies from God. One of these prophecies is that Jesus is the suffering servant in Isaiah 53. He was to be tried and condemned, being silent before his accusers, executed among criminals and would be a sacrifice to be punished for sins that are not his own. Zechariah also speaks of God’s own representative who is killed at the hands of His people and the people of God will eventually realize whom they have killed and mourn for the One who had died.
Jesus fulfils the law
Jesus Christ also came to fulfil the Law. The ‘law’ here refers to the Torah (the first 5 books of the Bible). He obeyed perfectly every single one of the commandments that God provided for his people. As we come to understand what Jesus himself taught; that the commandments of God require not just obedience in our actions but obedience in our hearts, we come to see how impossible it is to keep the law. But Jesus kept the entirety of the law completely, not just in his deeds but in his motivations as well.
The Torah does not just contain the commandments of God; it also reveals the provisions that God gave his people for the forgiveness of sin. An example of these provisions would be the Tabernacle, the temple sacrifice, and the Levitical priesthood. In New Testament language, these are called shadows because they represent something else that is to come. The book of Hebrews tells us that the performance of the ritual of these shadows does not actually take away sin, but they point towards the One who can.
Hebrews 10:1 tells us “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.”
Jesus is our great high priest who offered the perfect sacrifice, accomplishing the priestly work of appeasing the wrath of God and making payment for our sins perfectly through his work on the cross. All the provisions and all the shadows find their ultimate fulfilment in the work of our Lord Jesus – He is the fulfilment of the law.
The Old Testament provides the model for obedience that Jesus lived
Just because the Law finds its fulfilment in Jesus Christ, it does not mean that we can forget about its teachings. Those that are called least in the kingdom of heaven are described here as having little regard for obedience to the commandments of God. ‘Whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven’ (v.19).
The good disciple would obey and teach the commandments: he would go beyond lip service and model his life to be guided by God’s teachings. This does not equate to a literal observance of every single regulation (as if it is a checklist to be fulfilled), but rather, the showing of the attitude of obedience and respect to the word of God.
Any Christian who dismisses any part of the Old Testament is a weak Christian; the consistent Christian will be guided by the law, and will teach others the importance of living by it. A mature Christian, while understanding the importance of keeping the law, would also not jump to the other end in walking the path of mere legalism.
Jesus gives us a provision against legalism in v.20. He mentions the Pharisees and scribes who were an example of the greatest righteousness imaginable within Judaism. Jesus says that the strict observance of the law by the Pharisees and Scribes still would not qualify them to enter the kingdom of heaven. A greater righteousness is needed. A righteousness that has fulfilled all of the law and the prophets - which is Jesus Christ himself.
What is your view towards the Old Testament law and the prophets?
Jesus Christ revealed in all of Scripture
The entirety of the Old Testament points us towards the person of Jesus Christ. As we grow in our knowledge of Scripture, we should be seeing Christ peppered throughout the narrative of the Old Testament. Understanding the full implication of how he has kept the law for us and done the full work of redemption for us would bring us to have an increased appreciation for the work that He has done for us.
Not even an iota nor a dot will pass away until the complete fulfilment of the words of God (v.18). Until today, the entirety of God’s law remains binding on the human race, Christian or not. Just as the Jews could not keep the entirety of God’s commands, neither can we. But Jesus Christ has done it. He has fulfilled the law perfectly. And the promise given to us is that he has fulfilled it on our behalf, that we might be able to stand before God with the full righteousness of Christ with us, if only we believe.