We can draw several useful lessons from Matthew 4, where we find the record of a face-to-face confrontation between Jesus and the devil. Notice that Satan picked a time when Jesus would understandably be weakened and (in theory) more susceptible to temptations; verse 2 tells us that Jesus had just completed a forty-day fast. The first of Satan’s trials attempted to exploit His natural hunger, but His response was rooted in God’s word –“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (verse 4). In each of the succeeding trials, Jesus like-wise answered from the scriptures, with the result that the devil left Him (verse 11). Christians need to learn to cope with temptation in the same way Jesus did! When we answer temptation according to the scriptures:
- We put the temptation into its proper context (that is, we are reminded that our trial is an attempt by Satan to get us to sin);
- We are reminded that God –not the devil –is the Eternal Measure of what is right or wrong, good or bad;
- We are encouraged, knowing that we can choose the right way, that we do have an alternative to sin;
- We should be humbled, knowing that our Master’s faithfulness is a “do–able” example for us to follow (cf. 1 Peter 2:21).
Chapters 5–7 comprise the Lord’s magnificent “Sermon on the Mount,” including the “beatitudes” in 5:1–12, qualities that describe the character of a true disciple of Jesus. Six times in chapter 5, however, Jesus contrasts the “conventional” interpretation of Moses’ law with His own authoritative teaching, on matters ranging from conflict resolution (vv. 21–26) to control of lust (vv. 27–30), from divorce (vv. 31–32) to fundamental honesty (vv. 33–37), and from revenge (vv. 38–42) to resentment (vv. 43–48). Throughout this section of Jesus’ teaching His own authority is emphasized, providing a contrast with the teaching of the rabbis of that day. Perhaps THE significant lesson for the modern religious world comes from the Lord’s statement in Matthew 7:21–23, where He emphasizes the crucial importance of obedience over “intention.” His words make it plain that we are not at liberty to “graft” His name onto our own wishes in spiritual matters, lest we be rejected by Him in the last day!
The eighth and ninth chapters of Matthew recount a number of the miracles Jesus performed in the course of His ministry. An outstanding fact we should not overlook is that He used these incidents as occasions of teaching–not merely as opportunities to “wow” His audiences. Whenever miracles occur in the new testament, they are always subordinate to the message they accompany. Notice also in 8:14 that Jesus healed Peter’s mother–in–law. This presents a problem for the Roman Catholic denomination, which claims Peter was the first “pope:” Since popes and priests are supposed to be unmarried, how did Peter acquire a mother–in–law? Further, in the healing recorded in chapter 9:1–8, the signal point is not that a paralyzed man was made to walk, but that a sinner was forgiven; Jesus said plainly that the healing was to authenticate His Divine right and ability to forgive sins.
We learn an interesting and significant fact about John the baptizer in Matthew 11:7–15, when Jesus declares that none of the previous prophets were greater than John (v. 11). Because he lived and died before the cross, John was never a Christian; this is why Jesus went on to say that the “least” one in the kingdom is “greater” than John! Christians enjoy a greater blessing than John did, even though he was a prophet of God and the “forerunner” (Mark 1:2) of the Christ.