4 The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the desert, so that the devil could test him. 2 After Jesus had gone without eating for 40 days and nights, he was very hungry. 3 Then the devil came to him and said, “If you are God’s Son, tell these stones to turn into bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “The Scriptures say:
‘No one can live only on food. People need every word that God has spoken.’ ”
5 Next, the devil took Jesus into the holy city to the highest part of the temple. 6 The devil said, “If you are God’s Son, jump off. The Scriptures say:
‘God will give his angels orders about you. They will catch you in their arms, and you won’t hurt your feet on the stones.’ ”
7 Jesus answered, “The Scriptures also say, ‘Don’t try to test the Lord your God!’ ”
8 Finally, the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power. 9 The devil said to him, “I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus answered, “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say:
‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’ ”
11 Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him.
Every year we begin Lent with the story of Jesus being tempted in the desert. This story has a lot of symbolism in it, and the early Christian church would have recognized the connections between Jesus and Moses, and the other stories in the Hebrew Scriptures. The forty days, for instance, was the same length of time Noah was in the ark, that Moses was in the mountains, that Goliath challenged David, and that Elijah walked before reaching Mount Hebron. We also have he Hebrews in the desert for 40 years.
Lent is 40 days. (We take Sundays off because Sundays are holy days and we should be able to praise on those days.)
This is where we encounter the character ‘Satan’ for the first time. In Hebrew this word was “ha-satan”, meaning the satan. It wasn’t a real name, it was a description. Ha in Hebrew means ‘the’, and satan meant the tempter or challenger. It was the job of ha-satan to test Jesus to make sure Jesus remained focus on what God wanted him to do and didn’t get distracted by an easier life.
Ha-satan tempted Jesus in three ways. 1. Get what you want by changing stones into bread. 2. Force God to save you by making unsafe choices. 3. Worship me and I’ll give you all the money and power you want.
Jesus said no each time. He told ha-satan, and reminded himself, that we are to trust God’s word, not challenge God for proof of God’s power, and find our value in God’s teachings, not in money and power.
Matthew6 When you do good deeds, don’t try to show off. If you do, you won’t get a reward from your Father in heaven.
2 When you give to the poor, don’t blow a loud horn. That’s what show-offs do in the synagogues and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward.
3 When you give to the poor, don’t let anyone know about it. 4 Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret and will reward you.
5 When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.
6 When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to your Father in private. He knows what is done in private and will reward you.
16 When you go without eating, don’t try to look gloomy as those show-offs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. 17 Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then others won’t know you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.
19 Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. 20 Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21 Your heart will always be where your treasure is.
Matthew17 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the brothers James and John with him. They went up on a very high mountain where they could be alone. 2 There in front of the disciples, Jesus was completely changed. His face was shining like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.
3 All at once Moses and Elijah were there talking with Jesus. 4 So Peter said to him, “Lord, it is good for us to be here! Let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While Peter was still speaking, the shadow of a bright cloud passed over them. From the cloud a voice said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him. Listen to what he says!” 6 When the disciples heard the voice, they were so afraid they fell flat on the ground. 7 But Jesus came over and touched them. He said, “Get up and don’t be afraid!” 8 When they opened their eyes, they saw only Jesus.
9 On their way down from the mountain, Jesus warned his disciples not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Son of Man had been raised from death.
Trans means change, and Transfiguration means the person of Jesus, his ‘figure’, changed. He was still himself, but there was a new sense of purpose and this time Jesus’ closest friends were there to witness Jesus once again being given the responsibility to make the world different. The disciples were told that Jesus was the one to listen to.
In the Hebrew tradition, Moses represented the laws of the faith, and Elijah represented all the prophets who encouraged people to follow God’s teachings. It is interesting hearing this story in Matthew after we have been assured during the Sermon on the Mount in Chapter 4, that everything Jesus said followed the teachings of both Moses and Elijah.
The earliest followers of Jesus were still trying to figure out how important Jesus was compared to those two great men of the Hebrew tradition. This story shows that all of them, Jesus, Moses and Elijah, were in agreement and socialized together, however Jesus was the one with the message that was now to be followed.
Jesus was not going to say anything from either Moses or Elijah was wrong or needed to be changed, he was going to take those teachings and explain them further so people could do what God wanted them to do.
Matthew 313 Jesus left Galilee and went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. 14 But John kept objecting and said, “I ought to be baptized by you. Why have you come to me?”
15 Jesus answered, “For now this is how it should be, because we must do all God wants us to do.” Then John agreed.
16 So Jesus was baptized. And as soon as he came out of the water, the sky opened, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down on him like a dove. 17 Then a voice from heaven said, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.”
Baptism is the special ritual Christian share to welcome someone into our family of God. This is one of the few practices we know was around when Jesus was alive.
Jesus wanted John to baptize him, even though John knew Jesus was God’s son. Jesus showed John, and all of us at the same time, that we all belong, and one of us is not more important than anyone else.
Baptism is a time when we publicly see that everyone is part of the family of God, and that we are all one family. It is the ritual where we see God loves us and thinks we are absolutely perfect just as we are. We are all beloved by God.
Traditionally this is the celebration of the Magi arriving in Bethlehem to meet Jesus. Although almost all nativity plays have the Magi arriving at the birth of Jesus along with the shepherd, the Bible story records the Magi arriving when Jesus was around two and lived in a house in Bethlehem. We only encounter the Magi in the reading from Matthew.
The term ‘Magi’ shared the root word for ‘magic’ or ‘magician’, as well as “Magus’, who were believed to be a priestly class in the Zoroastrian tradition. They were astronomers, probably scientists, and to those who didn’t understand the science these folks practiced, they seemed like magicians. The ancient world commonly decided things were magic and mysterious if they couldn’t understand or explain them. Science was still relatively unknown even amongst the wealthy and well educated.
The term ‘kings’ is not in the Gospel of Matthew, but it does refer to a passage in Isaiah that talked about ‘kings from the east’. Isaiah was talking about Persian rulers centuries before Jesus’ birth, but those who read the early stories of Jesus made the connection.
The tradition of three gifts, three ‘wisemen’ and three named men comes from various times in history, but the Bible only mentions three types of gifts, not how many of each they presented. There is no number given of how many were present to visit Jesus, however, caravans were large groups of people who travelled together for safety, so we can be very sure there were more than three visitors, and they were probably a mix of women and men.
This day is also known as “Old Christmas”. This term goes back to the 18th century when the British Parliament adopted the Gregorian calendar, and effectively moving Christmas up twelve days to December 25th. Those who believed the Julian calendar was more accurate continued to use January 6th as the proper day of Christmas, thus the term ‘old’ was used. Some Christian traditions around the world still celebrate the birth of Jesus on this date. Those belonging to many Eastern Orthodox traditions, recognize January 6th as ‘Christmas Eve’, and celebrate on January 7th.
Matthew 213 After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”
14 That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, 15 where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”
The Killing of the Children
16 When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.
17 So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,
18 “In Ramah a voice was heard crying and weeping loudly. Rachel was mourning for her children, and she refused to be comforted, because they were dead.”
The Return from Egypt
19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt. 20 The angel said, “Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead.”
21 Joseph got up and left with them for Israel. 22 But when he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee, 23 and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
We don’t spend a lot of time talking about Jesus as a child, and that is unfortunate. We have two stories from Jesus’ childhood, one when he is 13 and he stayed behind in the temple, scaring his parents (Luke 2:41-52), and this story from when Jesus was about 2 years old and the king wanted to kill him.
When we see pictures on the news or online that show families forced to leave their homes and travel to new countries, it is important to remember that that happened to Jesus, too. When we welcome refugees, it is like we are welcoming Jesus all over again.