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!
Matthew 3 - 4
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And 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. 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.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
4:1 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.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
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,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 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.” 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.
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.”
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.
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.