Sunday School, Sunday School Lesson

Sunday School Lesson (February 2, 2020) Single Minded Obedience Matthew 4:1-11

Single Minded Obedience Matthew 4:1-11

Hello Sunday school teachers, preachers, and students! Welcome to SundaySchoolPreacher.com.  In this week’s lesson we get a prime example of single minded obedience as Jesus teaches about true worship.  After being baptised by John the baptist, experiencing God the Father in a voice from the opened heavens, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, Jesus is immediately taken into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasts for forty days and forty nights.  After fasting forty days and forty nights Jesus was famished. He may be God in the flesh but his flesh desperately needs sustenance. Jesus is no doubt in a weakened state physically and emotionally. It’s at this point when Jesus is vulnerable that the adversary, the accuser, the tempter, the devil tries to short circuit Jesus’ journey to become King of Kings and LORD of Lords.  Jesus is tempted three times by the satan. Each time he combats the devil by quoting holy Scripture. If it’s in you, it will come out of you. Jesus fought the devil with what was inside him – scripture. We would do well, if we could do the same when faced with adversity. Some key ideas surrounding this week’s text includes the terms:  

Temptation

Fasting  

Background:  

Over the next four weeks I will explore how Jesus teaches about true worship.  Three of those lessons come from the early portions of The Gospel According to Matthew.  Matthew is the first book of the New Testament and the first book of what we call the four Gospels.  Nelson’s Bible Handbook explains that “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are placed at the beginning of the New Testament as the theological backdrop for the rest of the New Testament”.  So these four books help form the foundation and basis upon which we learn about the life, work, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nelson’s also notes that “in Matthew, Jesus is presented as the teacher who is greater than Moses.”  That is significant because Matthew puts Jesus forth with several parallels to Moses. For example Moses gave the Law from Mount Sinai. Jesus begins his major teachings – the Beatitudes – from a place the writer calls a mountain. So Matthew depicts Jesus as a sort of Moses that delivers the people of Israel from their captors in the same way Moses delivered the Israelites from the Pharaoh in Egypt.   

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible also notes that “the time and place of this Gospel’s composition are unclear as well.”  So no one knows for sure when, where, or by whom this Gospel was written. Nelson’s Bible Handbook notes that the author was probably a Palestinian Jew who used the Gospel of Mark plus a Greek translation of Matthew’s Aramaic “oracles” and composed the Gospel in Greek.”  I should note that Townsend’s commentary acknowledges that tradition, various theories, and modern scholars agree that the apostle known as Matthew the tax collector wrote this gospel.”  

The NISB notes that “the Gospel was probably a rewriting of Mark’s Gospel, written around 70 CE.”  The NISB continues “the antagonism toward the synagogue in Matthew suggests a date in the 80s.” This antagonism The Gospel of Matthew contains is a result of the division between what I call the old school traditional Jews (who reject Jesus) and these new Jewish Christians who believe Jesus is the Messiah.  

The fourth chapter of Matthew deals with the temptation of Jesus (our text this week), Jesus beginning his ministry in Galilee, Jesus calling the first disciples, and then Jesus ministering to crowds of people.  So this is Matthew’s account of the story of how Jesus first began in ministry. As we progress through this account of Jesus’ temptation, and the following lessons on piety, prayer, and perseverance we will see Jesus teaching about true worship.

Some important terms to consider about this text include:

Temptation

Fasting

Review of Last Week and How it Connects to This Week:   

In last week’s lesson Solomon closed his dedication ceremony in much the same way as he opened it – by “blessing” the people.  Keep in mind that Solomon was not a high priest, he was not even a priest or a Levite but he seemingly took on priestly roles by leading the nation in prayer, offering sacrifices, and giving a speech during the dedication ceremony.  This was a dedication ceremony and the people had just had a worship experience. They experienced a theophany. They had experienced the presence of God in the thick cloud and they had witnessed Solomon leading the nation in prayer in the presence of God.  Solomon had already reminded the assembly of his father David’s desire to make a permanent home for the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord. He had prayed his prayer, he had made his nine pleas and requests known to God and now just as Solomon began the dedication service by blessing the assembly, he closed the dedication service by blessing the assembly.   Townsend, Boyd’s, and Standard Lesson Commentaries title this week’s lesson “Single Minded Obedience”.  The scripture text comes from Matthew 4:1-11.  

Keep in mind that this portion of scripture deals with the very beginning of when and how Jesus began his earthly ministry.  The first three chapters of Matthew have already told us about:

  • The genealogy of Jesus.
  • The birth of Jesus as the Messiah.
  • How Mary, Joseph, and Jesus escaped to and returned from Egypt.
  • How Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist at the Jordan river.

This text deals with the events that occur immediately following Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River.  

What Takes Place in This Passage:  

The Lesson opens at chapter four verse one with Jesus being led by the Spirit into the wilderness.  Immediately before this text, Jesus had been baptised by John the Baptist and approved by God as the heavens opened, the voice of God spoke from heaven, and the Spirit of God descends like a dove.  I should note that the baptism of Jesus is the only place in scripture that specifically mentions God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit as three separate entities located in the same place.  This is the very beginning of Jesus’ road to calvary and kingship and sovereignty over all humanity. Jesus will become King of Kings, but the journey begins in the wilderness with temptations.

In this wilderness experience Jesus will be tempted three times by what Matthew calls the devil, the tempter, and the satan.  The NISB explains that “the central issue in the three temptations concerns who will determine Jesus’ actions. Does God or does Satan?”  I think that question remains relevant to all of us today. Who will determine our actions? Will we follow the ways of God’s righteousness or will we follow the evil ways of the adversary.  Just as Jesus had a choice even in his physically weakened state, we also have a choice. Temptations, adversity, and opposition will come our way; it’s up to us how we respond.

The NISB notes that “Jesus is led away into the wilderness.  This location, away from the center of power, recalls the testing of Israel (forty years [in the wilderness]).”  So just as Moses was forty years in the wilderness, away from the center of power in Egypt, Jesus will spend forty days and nights in the wilderness away from the center of religious power in Jerusalem.  The NISB also notes that the wilderness “was a traditional place for demons. And that the devil, a powerful, non-human figure, resists God’s purposes.” The adversary, the satan, the tempter, the devil is opposed to God’s purposes and opposed to Jesus becoming King of Kings and LORD of Lords.  

In verse two Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights.  Through the Bible there is significance in the number forty.  

  1. It rained forty days and forty nights during the flood (Gen 7:4).
  2. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness (Exodus 3).
  3. Israel spied out the land forty days (Numbers 13:25).
  4. Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18).
  5. Israel wandered forty years in the desert (Numbers 14:33).
  6. Goliath taunted Israel forty days (1 Samuel 17:16).
  7. Jonah preached repentance to Nineveh forty days (Jonah 3:4).
  8. Jesus fasted forty days and nights in the wilderness before being tempted (Matthew 4:2).
  9. There were forty days between the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:3).  

So throughout scripture the number forty appears at significant and important times.  

Westminister’s Dictionary of Theological Terms defines “fasting” as “abstinence from food for the purposes of religious devotion and spiritual discipline.”  Jesus was all God and all man in flesh so his physical body required sustenance. After forty days and forty nights Jesus was famished. He would have no doubt been desperately hungry.  

In verse three the tempter came to Jesus with the first temptation.  The tempter asks Jesus – “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”    The tempter begins by questioning Jesus as if Jesus did not fully know he was the Son of God. The tempter’s trick doesn’t work.  Even in his weakened state, Jesus is not swayed, convinced, or tricked by the tempter. He knows who he is and after forty days and forty nights without food Jesus can not be tricked into thinking he is less than the Son of God.  

In verse four Jesus answers the tempter with scripture.  “It is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3.  It reads “3 He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  In the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy the writer is providing instructions for the Israelites.  He provides a warning not to forget God in their prosperity. They had spent forty years in the wilderness and now they were about to enter the promised land.  Jesus remembered this verse in Deuteronomy with the Israelites forty year journey in the wilderness and his own forty days and nights in the wilderness. Notice also that “Man” in the KJV and NIV is capitalized.  The NRSV capitalizes “One” in “it is written, One does not live by bread alone.”  Jesus is referencing himself. Again, Jesus is letting the tempter know that he is the Son of God.    

In verse five the devil took Jesus to the holy city and placed him on a pinnacle of the temple.  Keep in mind that the devil is a spirit being. The devil is not a human. So this travel from the wilderness to the holy city is achieved in some way that is not told in the story.  

The Pulpit Commentary explains that the “pinnacle” of the temple is not known.  No one precisely knows what is meant by the term pinnacle. Also, I should note that this temple is not the same temple built by Solomon as we have studied in previous weeks.  This temptation of Jesus would have happened when Jesus was about thirty years old.  

Solomon built the first temple and it was destroyed.  Zerubbal rebuilt the first temple and that temple became the second temple.  The Lexham Bible dictionary explains that Herod the Great made significant renovations to the second temple in about 20 CE.  So at this point the devil is taking Jesus to the temple that Herod renovated.  

In verse six the devil challenges Jesus to throw himself down from the pinnacle.  He continues by quoting scripture “for it is written, He will command his angels concerning you and on their hands they will bear you up , so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  Psalms 91:11-12 is the scripture the devil quotes.  

That seems like it makes sense.  It seems logical that God will protect the Son of God from hurt, harm, and danger.  But that’s exactly how scripture gets misappropriated and misused. At this point, after forty days and forty nights without food Jesus is no doubt in pain and in a weakened state physically, mentally, and emotionally.  But Jesus knows, just because it seems like it makes sense, doesn’t make it right.  I want to stress that this is a REAL temptation.  This is not a spiritual exercise that we can simply say that Jesus was God so he just sailed through this.  No, Jesus is tempted and he chooses to overcome the temptation.

In verse seven Jesus responds with a quote from Deuteronomy 6:16.  “16 Do not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”  The NISB explains that “the incident at Massah reflects the people’s unwillingness to trust that God could take care of their needs.”  Jesus quotes this passage to let the devil know that he has complete faith, trust, and confidence in God. He doesn’t need to put God to the test to see if God will come rescue him.  

In verses eight and nine, again the devil takes Jesus to a very high mountain for his third temptation.  On this high mountain the devil showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. Then he tells Jesus “all these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”  Only forty days ago Jesus began his earthly journey to become King of Kings and LORD of Lords. The devil is offering him a short cut, a get rich quick scheme, the easy way to have everything he was supposed to have.  

The truth is, God already owns everything.  Jesus knows he is the Son of God and there is nothing that God does not already own.  So this promise from the devil to give Jesus the kingdoms of the world is an empty promise that he could not fulfil even if he wanted to.  Even in Jesus’ weakened state, he has single minded obedience to God and God alone.  

In verses ten and eleven Jesus tells the tempter (who Matthew now calls the satan) “away with you, Satan! For it is written, Worship the LORD your God, and serve only him.”  Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13. This time not only does Jesus quote scripture but he demands the satan to leave. Westminster’s Dictionary of Theological Terms define “Worship” as the service of praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and petition directed toward God through actions and attitudes.”  That’s what the satan wanted from Jesus. At this point Jesus has had enough of the satans temptations and commands the adversary to leave.  

Additionally, Westminster’s notes that “Satan” in its Hebrew means accuser, or adversary.  Satan is defined as “the devil, who represents the most diabolical evil in opposition to God and God’s purposes (Matthew 4:10, Luke 10:18; 2 Cor. 2:11).

The lesson closes with this accuser, this adversary leaving Jesus and suddenly angels came and waited on him.  It’s important to note that after the temptations are complete and Jesus has successfully passed through the temptations that it was then that God suddenly sends angels to minister to Jesus.  

Context

The Hebrew word for the satan is the adversary or the accuser.  It isn’t a name, it’s a descriptor. That’s just some of what the evil one does.  As we face temptations, accusations, oppositions, and adversaries we should remember how Jesus handled them.  Even in his physically, and emotionally weakened state Jesus used the Word of God to deal with his temptations.  If it’s in you, it will come out of you. Let’s hope and pray that the word of God is in us enough to come out of us in our time of need.  

Key Words:  

Temptation – Enticement to evil and sin.  Biblically it is “proving by testing” to show someone’s commitment to God (Job 1-2), as well as the inducement to sin.  God does not tempt (James 1:12-15). Jesus was tempted but did not sin (Heb 4:15).  

Fasting – Abstinence from food for the purposes of religious devotion and spiritual discipline.  

Themes, Topics, Discussion, or Sermon Preparation Ideas:  

1.  If it’s in you, It will come out of you.

2.  Focused on Jesus. 

Question:  

It would have made sense and been logical for Jesus to turn the stones to bread.  Why didn’t he?    

Preview of Next Week’s Lesson:

Next week, we continue in the Gospel According to Matthew, moving to Chapter six.  The lesson for February 9, 2020 comes from Matthew 6:1-8 and is titled Piety that Honors God and God Honoring Piety.   

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