January 4: Matthew 4
Genesis 4; Matthew 4; Ezra 4; Acts 4
Do you find shame and guilt with certain personal weaknesses? Do you wilt under the weight of your lack of progress in personal holiness? Welcome, human, to the human race. Matthew 4 contains good news for you.
Verses 1-11 of Matthew 4 contain Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. It comes right on the heels of Jesus’ baptism - a wondrous occasion. And if we didn’t know anything else about the context, it’s natural to ask, why would God subject him to this? What’s the purpose?
Sometimes the context for understanding a story in the Bible is the immediate surrounding text. But sometimes that is the whole Bible. Such is the case here. Can you think of a time when another “son” of God was brought through the waters, and then after that, spent 40 clicks of time in the wilderness? That’s right - Israel itself, which God often refers to as His “Son” (see Exodus 4:22), goes through the waters of the Exodus, and then spent forty years in the wilderness. The alignment is too close to be a coincidence.
Thus what Jesus is doing in Matthew 4 is what both of God’s previous “sons” failed to do. Both Adam in the Garden and Israel in the wilderness failed to obey God. They both wilted under the heat of trial and temptation. And so now God sends His Son once more, to obey, in the place of His people. This is called the “active obedience of Christ.” The “passive obedience of Christ” occurred when Jesus willingly gave himself up to die on the cross. There he died for our sins.
Here, in the desert, he obeys God, for our righteousness before Him. Here he obeys in our place, as our substitute. He performs what we have all failed to do.
Grasping this truth is the first and most important thing to do, when battling sin. We are so prone, in the aftermath of failure, to jump to self-improvement, and different tactics - to doing things better. But the first and most important step is that of faith - believing that Jesus did things better for me, in my place. Grasping this then becomes the ground by which we may come to God for mercy and help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16).
You can’t fight unforgiven sin. The weight of shame and guilt is too much. The obedience of Christ for us means that we can come before God as we are, sin-stench and all, and receive what we need to get up, brush the snow off our keisters, and start skating again. God left nothing to chance; he sent Jesus to obey Him for us.