Welcome back to our usual pewsheet as we kick off 2023 in the office.
For those who have been following we began our first service for 2023 at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel. We took some time to think about and talk about our family histories and what are some of the traditions around New Year we might have.
Last week we were in chapter 3 with the story of John the Baptizer, John’s challenge to the people to repent and then the baptism of Jesus. We shared stories and memories of our own baptisms or of those we have been part of. We left with the gift of the dove that came from heaven declaring “This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We took one of these doves’ home for ourselves and one to pass onto someone who needed to hear that they are loved.
This week we move straight from where we left off last week – Jesus’ baptism – into the wilderness and the temptation of Jesus. This interaction between Jesus and the tempter could only be told if Jesus himself had shared this experience with his disciples – there was no biographer around to write it all down.
So, we could be asking, what is going on in this week’s temptations passage? I think, partly, Matthew is showing the steadfast nature of Jesus despite having been in the wilderness and fasting for forty days and nights (hardly the ideal preparation for resisting tempting offers).
And partly it is Matthew making sure that at every turn, Jesus fulfils
Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah. “This was to fulfil what was written…” is a refrain heard again and again in this gospel. But the passage is also another strike against power, as was John the Baptist’s criticism of the Scribes and Pharisees coming for baptism in last week’s gospel passage. Jesus is offered the whole world but rejects the offer because of the price it would exact of having to worship another and because power over people in that sense is the antithesis of the gospel way. Compelling faith in someone is a contradiction in terms.
There are striking parallels between last week and this. Jesus, as John the Baptist before, was in the wilderness. Jesus, as John the Baptist before, speaks challenging words to power. Jesus, as John the Baptist before, preaches a challenge to repentance. John prepared the way. The brink was reached. The water shed. The fulfilment lay ahead. There was no doubt. The time had come. The one awaited was here. Scripture was being fulfilled. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”