Notes on Matthew 4

Matthew 4  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Nevertheless, if such is our relation with God, we are in conflict here below with the enemy of our souls. Well, here too Jesus must go into it for us. This follows immediately. Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil. If He takes or rather makes our place with God, He must take it in face of the enemy to bind the strong man that held us captive. I know not, dear brother, if this grace strikes you as it strikes me: but it seems to me to go beyond all the bearing of our thoughts as much as the effort to reproduce it in human words for drawing the attention of souls to it only betrays the weakness which speaks of it. However let us pursue our essay, since it can be studied in the word itself, once the attention is thus drawn to it.
Jesus takes our place in conflict: solemn moment where all depended on His victory. It was not possible doubtless that He should not bear off the victory; but if the Second man had fallen like the first, all was ended and lost. Yes, that could not be; but He must conquer for us and conquer as man. It is exactly out of this position that the enemy wished to withdraw Him, out of the position of a servant of man as such. “If thou art the Son of God “(and the Father had just owned Him such)—if thou art Son of God, speak that these stones may become loaves. Act as Son. There is no harm in eating when one is hungry. You have only to say this word and have wherewithal to satisfy your wishes. That is, do your will: leave the position of servant you have taken. Not for a moment! He had taken, being in the form of God, the form of a servant; and He abides servant of His God.
And, in these days of slighting the word, it is good for the heart to remark how He answers. A single text of the word, of the scripture, suffices for the fidelity and the almightiness of the Lord, for the wisdom of the Son of God; a single text suffices to reduce to silence the devil who wished to lead Him astray. The Son of God remains in His position of man, the servant; and the word of God directs, is the opening of, His ways. “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” What a beautiful and perfect example! Not a movement of His heart toward any other thing than the authority of His God, of whom He had made Himself servant. The word of God issues from the mouth of God—the words issued from His mouth, blessed be His name, direct to man. Christ maintains Himself in the place of man. Man shall not live by bread alone. The word is the source of His conduct; He lives by it. It is His directory doubtless; but it is also what puts His will in movement: without it He does nothing. He is come to do the will of God. The words which proceed out of His mouth declare this will and put in movement the soul of man the servant. Such is the obedience of Christ. The devil can do nothing there; he is silent.
Remember here, though they be only accessory circumstances, that this conflict did not occur in the garden of Eden, not in the midst of enjoyments which testified the goodness of God. Christ had already passed forty days, a solemn period of exercise and endurance, as we know by Moses and Elijah, and in an analogous manner by the forty years of Israel in the wilderness. He had been withdrawn from the ordinary state of humanity, not to prepare Him for the presence of God, as Moses and Elijah had been. He was in the wilderness, far from the pleasant things which, by the goodness of God, remain to man in this fallen world, for a struggle, (not that we know that this was with special temptations, but for a struggle) with the enemy. His position was such as that of the world in its moral reality as God sees it, a desert where Satan rules. (Mark 1:1313And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him. (Mark 1:13).) Put to the proof thus by love for us and, while accomplishing the counsels of God, submitting fully in the ways of God (for He was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness) to the sufferings which come by the power of Satan into this world, He enters into the special conflict that He had to carry on with Satan, where we have to follow Him, but fighting against an enemy already beaten. He is not weary of His service of fidelity, He remains man the servant in obedience, He owns the absolute authority of the word, resting thereon as the basis of all His conduct. It is simplicity which is absolute perfection. Satan is vanquished. I repeat, a single text of the word—whatever be the foolish pretensions of man—suffices for the Lord, suffices for Satan. May this word suffice for us! Only may God give us grace to make use of it under the guidance of the Spirit of God whose sword it is, in order that it may be effectual in our hands.
But to dare obey God in this world there must be confidence in God. This is the second trial the Lord undergoes for us. “If thou art Son of God, cast thyself down.” Try if God will be faithful to His promise. (Psa. 91) This too was just out of the path of obedience. In this path He could always count upon God; but to put God to the proof to see if He would be faithful is not to confide in Him as assuredly such. This is what is meant by the expression “tempting God,” and not to go too far in confiding in Him. (Ex. 17:77And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not? (Exodus 17:7).) The confidence is perfect like the obedience. He waits on Jehovah. Sure that He will be faithful, that He is so always, He has but to follow the path of obedience and to depend on Him. His word will direct His steps and His thoughts, and will be accomplished in His promises. Such are the two elements of the life of the new man, of the life of Christ in us—obedience, and dependence. Christ was perfect in both, in an obedience which had the word, the will, of God, as the source of His activity, not simply as its rule. When Satan presents the word falsely as a snare, the word suffices as a perfect answer to conduct the steps and the thoughts of man.
Remark further in these instructive answers of the Lord that, when it is a question of the wiles of the devil, the wisdom of the Lord confines itself to a striking simplicity, and in this that there is no need to think save of one's own duty. This is enough, and Satan can do no more. Man must live not by bread only but by every word which proceeds out of the mouth of God. There is all; but it is all. His conduct is perfectly traced. It is submission, the path marked by the words of God. He does not enter into controversy with the enemy. He is found in this later with men. Here it is the perfect path of obedient man, his walk with Him. The word of God traces for Himself this path, and the end is completely attained. Satan is vanquished.
Afterward Satan shows himself; it is no more a question of his wiles. He offers the world and its glory to the Lord if He will pay him homage. For the obedient man that owned God it was to betray himself, and for such a man Satan manifested has no power. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. The world is the bait that Satan can offer that one should follow him. The man who wishes nothing but his God is sheltered from every real danger here. Nevertheless it is still by the word that the Lord answers. It is the Spirit's sword for man, the sword of God, but made for man who by the Spirit makes use of it; and if he seeks only to obey, it is enough for the certain defeat of the enemy of souls. The devil quits the Savior; and if Man must fight and conquer by an obedience so simple, angels of God Himself are there to render Him service.
Without being able here to bring out the instruction found in these details, I desired particularly to draw the attention of your readers to the way the Lord made and took our place on both sides, so to speak: on God's side, Son, anointed of the Holy Spirit, before the Father, with heaven opened; then in conflict with Satan when in fact He bound for us the strong man.
The Lord, man here below, had been owned by the Father as His beloved Son, heaven being open on Him, and Himself anointed by the Holy Spirit. He had thus presented in Himself the place which according to God's counsels those should hold whom He is not ashamed to call His brethren. He had for them entered on the conflict the strong man wages with them and, having conquered him for them, had shown them how, by His grace, they could conquer in their turn. He must exercise His ministry in the midst of the people, and, whilst announcing the gospel of the kingdom, spoil the strong man that He had bound.
But from the beginning the disposition of man manifests itself. John the Baptist is put in prison. Jesus, from Judea where He had wrought, goes away to Galilee amongst the poor and despised of the people. He abides at Capernaum, a place even called His city. It is there according to prophecy (and Matthew always give us Him who is the subject of prophecy) that the light must shine: neither at Jerusalem in the midst of the proud chiefs of the Jews, nor where He was at home does He begin His work. The poor of the flock, the testimony of God, the Spirit of the Lord perfect in spiritual wisdom unite to direct His steps towards the place willed of God. I do not say that prophecy directed His steps; but His acts accomplished prophecy.
What Jesus announced was what John had published. It was a call to repentance because the kingdom of the heavens had drawn nigh. The throne of God had been established on the earth at Jerusalem; the Eternal had forsaken it at the time of the Babylonish captivity, and the seat of the supreme power was transported there, and this power confided to the Gentiles. But the heavens were to reign and God to establish from above His beneficent power over the earth. Up to this day He has not taken His great power and acted as king; but the king is seated in heaven on the throne of the Father, and the kingdom exists in mystery.
It is important to remark here that it is not a question only of the salvation of such or such an individual (while the things may be bound together, and in fact are so, as John 3 proves), but of the establishment of a system of authority by which the heavens impress their character in blessing on the earth. The rejection of Christ has introduced better things, and relations more intimate and more entirely heavenly; but the kingdom will be established with a still fuller development when the Lord returns. This however is not the place to pursue this theme: let us follow our Gospel.
The Lord becomes the center of a people which are attached entirely to Him: an important principle, a right belonging to Him alone. He preaches repentance to all. One must return to God in self-judgment, for Israel was far from Him, and the crisis of their history arrived. But, besides, the powerful attraction of the Lord's call attached souls to Him by making them leave all and break every other tie. Emmanuel was there; and those He called were His. The call was to be the fishers of men.
After this the ministry of Jesus is summarily recounted in the three verses that follow, indeed in the single verse 28. The more these verses 17-23 are examined, the more one sees that they contain, and designedly, a compendium of all the Lord's ministry. Verses 24, 25, tell us the effect of this ministry in Palestine and all the neighboring countries. Besides, it makes a ministry accompanied by a power suited to draw their attention. He gathered disciples round Him. The gospel of the kingdom was announced; and the character of the miracles was as important as the power which accomplished them: it was the power of God manifested in goodness on the earth.
Great crowds followed Him. It was of importance that His disciples and even the multitude should understand what was the true character of the kingdom about to be introduced and of those about to have part in it. John's ministry however had detached a remnant from the impenitent mass of the people.