Today’s reading: Matthew 1-4.
If there was any doubt that Jesus is rooted in the Old Testament, the first four chapters of Matthew remove any question. Just look at some of the references Matthew makes:
- Isaiah’s prophecy of the virgin birth and the child’s presence proclaiming that God is with us.
- Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
- Hosea’s prophecy that the Messiah would come out of Egypt, where Joseph had taken him for protection.
- Jeremiah’s prediction that the children around Bethlehem would be killed, as Herod did in order to try to eliminate the Messiah.
- Isaiah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be like a branch or twig coming out of the stump of Jesse, a thing of little or no account, which Matthew compares to the current opinion about Nazareth where Jesus grew up. Perhaps a play on the word for branch being the root of the word, Nazareth.
- Isaiah’s prediction that one would come before the Messiah, working in the unpopulated areas to prepare the way for his coming.
- Satan’s misuse of the OT, and Jesus’ proper use of it to defeat Satan’s temptations.
- Isaiah’s prophecy that Galilee would be the site of the Messiah’s ministry.
John the Baptist’s description of Jesus’ ministry is telling. He recognizes the radical nature of Jesus’ work as opposed to a teaching ministry upon which so many people focus.
“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12
The image of Jesus threshing as he separates the wheat from the chaff is very much an Old Testament picture of judgment. He comes to separate people into two distinct groups. Those who accept him from those who don’t. Those who follow him as disciples from those who won’t. Those who find righteousness through his sacrificial death from those who don’t believe in the saving work of his death on the cross.
It’s remarkable that the Holy Spirit leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. He faces the temptation up front in order to disarm it, while we are admonished to avoid temptation. He faces the temptation after a period of fasting, not as a cause of the temptation but in order to defeat it. His victory over temptation is based on three things:
- The word of God. This sustained and empowered him (see also John 4).
- The work of God. He always did it God’s way, as hard as that was at times. He didn’t opt for cheap tricks.
- The worship of God. He let no other person or thing master him.
Jewish Matthew paints a very Jewish picture of Jesus, rising up on the wings of the Old Testament promises, coming as the dividing line between the righteous and unrighteous, and defeating evil by the power of God’s Old Testament words.