In the first two chapters of his book, Matthew establishes continuity between Jesus’ story and the story of Abraham’s descendants – the children of Israel. Matthew makes sure we know that Jesus was a true descendant not only of Abraham but also of David – the king whom the LORD promised an everlasting throne. He recounts the words of Israel’s prophets showing how Jesus’ early journeys had been foretold. And Matthew bakes Jesus’ experiences within contextual comfort food: an unconventional birth story; angels appearing in dreams; inordinate danger from an unhinged ruler; and Egypt, as a place of refuge.
In today’s reading Matthew begins to establish Jesus’ message and intentions. In chapter 3 the message is presented by John the Baptist: first generally, and then directly at the Jewish leaders. In chapter 4 the message is proclaimed by Jesus, through his encounter with the Tempter, in his early preaching, in his call to the first disciples and through the healings He performed.
Pay attention to the geography. As a child, Jesus’ parents had avoided Judea and lived in Nazareth, a town in the northern province of Galilee. Jesus will return to the North after his baptism, settling in the city of Capernaum, originally part of the ancestral lands of Zebulun and Naphtali but now occupied by foreigners. John was preparing the way in the southern region of Judea, around Jerusalem. It might not be accidental that Matthew highlights the varied locations in which the kingdom of God was present and preached.
Pay even more attention to the dialogue, especially to the first lines of dialogue for each character. There’s John the Baptist’s bold exhortation: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” There’s Jesus’ obedience: “Let it be done so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” And the Tempter: “If you are the Son of God…”
Also follow Jesus’ responses to the Tempter in chapter 4: He quotes the Jewish Scriptures. Not only does this strengthen Matthew’s claim that this Jesus is not disconnected from Israel’s past, but it also, emphatically, shows Jesus’ own commitment to God’s word. When tested, Jesus responds with the strongest weapon at His disposal: “It is written…”
Our verse for this week is Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”
Matthew chapters 3 and 4. Now let’s read it!
but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.