Tempting and Testing – The Coming of the Accuser
God celebrated Jesus and gave a sign of the Spirit’s presence/anointing with him at baptism. That Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be put to the test/tempted (peirasmos). One word for both harsh, negative “testing” and alluring, deceptively attractive “temptation.”
Both challenge integrity, commitment, faithfulness. We experience tests and temptations as deeply personal. Here we’re given an external view, like Job 1-2. The Satan, the Accuser (diabolos, slanderer, devil) seems to appear in personal confrontation. God’s voice... Satan’s.
The narrative is stylized, simple, formulaic. It avoids taking us into Jesus’ psychology – like our inner struggles where we experience the core of testing/temptation. Paul and James focus on desire, law, human choice and weakness. Sin personified. Desires from within.
Here, we’re given a glimpse of the coming battle as Jesus “binds the strong man.” (Mt. 12:28-29) A curtain is pulled back. Jesus has fasted for 40 days. The Accuser thinks he’ll be weakened.
The Anticipation and Surprise of John the Baptist
In our text we hear the voice of Jesus himself for the first time in Mt. After a 30-yr gap in our knowledge, Jesus comes to John to be baptized and amazing things begin to happen.
John was a prophet like Elijah in wilderness pronouncing God’s coming judgment – especially on Pharisees (Law) and Sadducees (Temple): “brood of vipers” (3:7). He calls all to repent, be baptized to prepare “the way of the Lord” for the in-breaking Kingdom of Heaven.
John proclaims the one who will follow him: his power, worthiness. Beyond plunging in water, he will plunge you in Spirit and Fire. John’s words echo words of scripture in Mal., Isa., etc. The coming one will embody God’s judgment, sifting, gathering wheat, burning chaff. He’s ready.
Then Jesus comes. It doesn’t seem right. He should take over, not be baptized. He should show power, fire, judgment. John expects the Messiah that so many envisioned. Jesus surprises! Not by being more glorious than we expected, but by being one of the crowd of people.
John the Baptizer and Elijah
Matthew introduces John as a known person: “Baptizer” (also Josephus). Famous as prophet and martyr killed by Herod Antipas. He is the renewal of prophecy cut short by corrupt power.
Mt illuminates his role by two scripture references. Isaiah 40: Wilderness, Exodus, hope for end of exile, renewal. Preparation for God. This is what the Gospel is about. Nothing less.
Also the sign of Elijah that ends Malachi. The call for renewal before God’s Judgment.
The surprising way that God comes. “God with us” as the exiled son. God as human Messiah.
2018 Nativity Service
How Do You Know What is Happening?
Matthew wants us to see beyond the surface: Jesus Messiah, Son of David, Son of Abraham. He led us through royal/mixed genealogy. He showed us Mary’s unusual pregnancy, Joseph’s challenge of faith, new meaning of “God with us.” He says hardly a word about Jesus’ birth itself, but brings in other eyes, outside witnesses of events around the birth.
The gifts of the Magi are vulnerable to misuse, adapting the story to our worship of Mammon. But for Matthew this is the clash of two visions of kingship, power, what really matters. The Magi are the world/nations at large, given an opportunity to see what God’s people, who should have been eagerly looking, cannot see because of corrupt, blinding power.
The Messiah’s Coming and a Crisis of Faith
This is the first of four Sundays of Advent: Our faith in a God who intervenes, comes into human life and experience in a totally remarkable way: incarnation to resurrection. He unites the life of God with the life of God’s creatures, us humans. He changes Human possibility by what he does and how he remains with us. Jesus is that event of intervention, Advent.
Messiah means “Anointed King”– the promise to David. Mt’s tells Jesus’ birth stressing the confrontation between the coming of God’s Messiah and Herod the “King of the Jews” established on his throne not as “son of David” but by normal power, Rome, conquest, control. We’ve reflected on his royal genealogy, but strange. God’s work, like Genesis.
Behold Your Anointed King – Think of the Pattern
We like to think in patterns. Generations: Lost (1880-1900), GI (1901-24), Silent/Beat (1925-44), Boomers (1945-64), Gen X (1965-84), Millennials (1985-2004), Post Millennials (2005-). Now many are absorbed with personal genealogy, genetic background, forensic genealogy.
Matthew is beginning Jesus’ story. Genealogy says something. This is a king’s list of ancestors. Few ordinary people could show such a list. Few today could without computers, databases. It is by fathers only, thus a single line, not a family tree. Thus through Joseph, not Mary.