So, Jesus ministry begins. What’s the first thing he does? Miracles and wonders? No. Preaching in the Temple? No. Rises up against the Roman oppressors? No.
He goes into the wilderness, on his own, for 40 days. He puts his own discipline to the test to ensure he is strong enough to face the troubles which are to come. He deliberately leads himself into temptation, not long before asking his followers to pray not to be led into temptation, so that He can battle it and defeat it. The first victory of many.
We’re all tempted. Tempted by money, possessions, sex, power, self interest and many other things which lead us down the wrong path. Jesus, however, is tempted by ultimate power over the world without the need to put himself through the suffering he will endure at the cross. He knows that he’s got a much higher purpose, though, and overcomes temptation by clinging to scripture. His knowledge of God’s word and desire to live it overcome his human instincts (he may be God, but he’s human as well).
This is an example we focus on during Lent (those 40 days in Lent come from here). It’s an example, though, that we need to follow all the time. It’s not easy. It’s not even possible. Not on our own, anyway. Thankfully, we have someone to pick us up, dust us off and encourage us again whenever we fall. And it is so worth it!
Then he comes back. Peter, Andrew, James and John are called to follow him and, apparently, do so without question. Something is just right about this. They can see a better way. The better way. So they join Jesus as he starts by carrying on John the Baptist’s message of repentance.
I often wonder about Zebedee. The father of James and John, not the bouncing strawberry from The Magic Roundabout. One minute he’s in a boat, working with his boys and the next he’s alone as his sons go off with some Nazarene bloke they’ve only just met. I have two sons and I know I’d worry like mad if that was me, maybe even resistant. I always hope and pray that Zebedee understood, found peace with it and, in his own way, followed Jesus too. I hope he bounced back (pun intended).
Then we come to a verse which has hit me harder than any in these three chapters. We’ve been through the wilderness and the calling of the first disciples. We’re about to hear the greatest demon ever preached. Matthew 4:24, however, really strikes a chord in today’s world,
“News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.”
All over Syria, Jesus’ news, teachings and healing took place. How much does that war-torn country, ripped apart by the vicious fighting between the government and rebels, need Jesus right now? His presence, love, uniting grace and healing are all there. It just needs people to stand up in that place and bring it to the sick, wounded, suffering, starving, grieving, angry, desperate people of Syria. It is happening, but I pray that it grows until peace and harmony finally take hold.
Then we hear the Sermon on the Mount. Or, at least, two thirds of it (it finishes in chapter 7).
The most beautiful, famous, remarkable sermon.
Starting with the beatitudes, a list of all those who are blessed and will receive God’s kingdom. Each one of these is for people who are normally seen as the least important, powerless, least deserving people. However, Jesus says, they are blessed in the eyes of God. We see why as the sermon moves on an Jesus speaks of sharing our salt and light, doing good deeds towards others in God’s name. He speaks of act which teach us love, respect and discipline, both towards ourselves and towards others.
We are called to be righteous, more so than the religious leaders of the day. This sounds almost impossible, but the rest of the Sermon, and the rest of Jesus life, shows us how. It’s not by following hundreds of individual laws which we cannot hope to keep no matter how hard we try. It is by understanding why those laws were written. What God meant by them. Seeing them through the lens of Jesus. Then we apply them to our lives.
This is what he meant when he said that he came to fulfil the law, not to do away with it. The law has been leading up to what he does in life, in death and then, beyond.
“For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:18 NIV)
Until everything is “accomplished”.
He’ll talk about things being accomplished again at a much more painful time.