Learning from Matthew 3-4
3:1-12 - This chapter begins with ‘John the Baptist’ (1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased’ (17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is ‘more powerful’ than ourselves (11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, ‘Christ must increase, I must decrease’ (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in verse 11 - ‘ I baptize with water... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire’. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour - We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses’ (Acts 1:8).
3:13-17 - Considering the contrast between Jesus and John - John is not fit to carry Christ’s sandals (11) - , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 15: ‘it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness’. When Jesus uses the word ‘proper’ (or fitting), does He use it to mean ‘according to convention’? No - He means that ‘it is fitting’ into God’s perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as ‘the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God’ (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus’ baptism directs us to Pentecost - the descent of the Spirit (16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus ‘fits’ our need perfectly!
4:1-11 - God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (3:17). Now, the devil challenges God’s Word: ‘If you are the Son of God...’ (3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the ‘if you are...’ approach is just the same as his ‘Did God really say?’ method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is ‘crafty’ (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in verse 9 - he wants Jesus to ‘bow down and worship’ him. In Jesus’ victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture - ‘It is written’ (4, 7, 10). We learn that true life comes from God (4), true safety is found in God (7) and true worship is given to God (10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God’s Word: ‘every Word that comes from... God’ ( 4).
4:12-17 - Having overcome His enemy, Jesus begins His ministry. Satan will be back - Luke ends his account of Jesus’ temptations with these ominous words, ‘When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left until an opportune time’ (4:12). Satan will try again, but - for now - he has failed to stop Jesus setting out on His ministry, a ministry which brings light into the darkness. The light is shining brightly - ‘the Kingdom of heaven is near’ (17). Jesus’ ministry is viewed as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophecy had been given: Death will be overcome, men and women will be delivered from ‘the shadow of death’. Now, in Christ, the prophecy has been fulfilled: by His death, Christ has destroyed ‘him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil’ and He has set ‘free’ those who live in ‘fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:14-15).
4:18-25 - Christ’s victory over the world was won for us (1 John 3:8: 5:4-5). Jesus was not a loner. He was a team leader: ‘From victory to victory His army He will lead’ (Church Hymnary, 481). At the very outset of His ministry, He set about putting together His ministry team. Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples. He called them to follow Him. His call was both gracious and demanding. It is gracious because it is the Saviour who calls us: ‘Follow Me’. It is demanding because He calls us to follow, to submit to His Lordship: ‘Follow Me’. These men were called to a new kind of ‘fishing’ (19). Jesus’ ministry reached ‘great crowds’ through His ‘teaching... preaching... and healing’ (23-25). This chapter sets the scene for Jesus' ministry. We see the Word of the Lord triumphant over Satan, fulfilled in Christ, and effective in the lives of the disciples and the crowds.