Reflection of the Week (Matthew 3-4, ESV)
The reading for this week from the gospel according to Matthew, records the launch of Christ’s missional work here on earth. As we believers seek to fulfill in the unique ministries God has destined for each of us, we can be safely guided by the footsteps that mark Jesus’ own initiation into ministry.
A Step into Sanctity: The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3)
Each of us must begin our journey into ministry as Jesus did, with a step from one reality into another, symbolized by the sacrament of baptism. Although already fully God, Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15) steps into the waters of the Jordan River a symbolic human and steps out a symbolic child of God, exemplifying outwardly the internal process of rebirth that happens when a sinner is saved and adopted into God’s divine family. God affirms Christ’s son-ship with audible words of favor and acceptance: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). In this same moment, God also sends His Spirit to “rest on” Jesus (v.16) and the image of the dove “descending” and “alighting,” effectively captures the idea that the Holy Spirit has found a secure home-perch in the person of Jesus Christ. Thus Jesus is sanctified or set apart as chosen through baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit before His formal ministry begins. We also must step into the water of death to our old selves and the sin tied to our human family and be resurrected up out of that water into new life in the family of God. We must publicly choose righteousness, as Jesus did, and receive the Spirit of God our Father imbued with all his favor and all the power of His great family name. This is the non-negotiable first step into the missional work of the Christian life.
A Step into Dependency: The Temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4)
Directly after His step of sanctification, Jesus is led by the Spirit now resting on Him into the wilderness to be tempted. The enemy comes for Him after forty days and nights of fasting, when He is at his weakest and has none of the natural human resources of strength at his disposal. He is physically worn out, and no doubt mentally and emotionally spent as well. The devil transports His body from place to place; perhaps He lacks the ability to resist; perhaps His intellect fails; perhaps even His will-power wavers in the face of seeming abandonment. No human aids can support or deliver him. His only hope is in the word of God His Father: truth powerful enough to dispel the lies of the enemy and release Him from temptation. Christ’s scriptural responses to Satan’s seductions miraculously “deliver [him] from evil” (see the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6). When He appears to have been led “into temptation,” (Matthew 6) He has actually been led, by the word of truth, into victory. For us, as with Christ, the lesson of total dependence on God is critical preparation for a life of ministry in which we face foes not of flesh and blood, to be combated by our sheer strength of body, mind, or heart, but “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces” (Ephesians 6:12) that can only be defeated by the Spirit of God and the Word of God. This step into dependency is an enormous one that may stretch forty days or even forty years and will need to be taken over and over again as God calls us into different or deeper paths of service. Yet we can take joy and comfort in knowing that, as we minister from a place of full dependence on God, eventually the enemy will flee. We will succeed! And, moreover, we will be refreshed, as Jesus was by heavenly angels. God, in turn, will minister to us and remind us of His enduring favor over His children.
A Step into Ministry: The Start of Jesus’ Life Work (Matthew 4)
When He has been sanctified, tempted, and refreshed, Jesus truly begins his ministry. Among the first things He does is recruit a team. He doesn’t conduct a nationwide search; he simply calls a few who are nearby to join Him, as his disciples, but also as partners in sharing the truth about God (verses 18-22). The ministry they step into together attends, right from the start, to both the spiritual and physical needs of people: Jesus teaches and heals (verses 23-25). Let this be an example to us as well. Although there will be seasons when we must work alone for God, we are ultimately called to minster as a body, together with a team who share our heart for building God’s kingdom. We are meant to disciple one another and to partner with one another in ministries that offer help in Jesus’ name. Whatever the nature or specific context of our ministries, we are called to share the Gospel Truth of Salvation and to do what we can to help address practical everyday concerns as ambassadors of our Provider God. We can boldly step into this calling when we have first taken steps into sanctity and dependency, and have embraced the other members of our spiritual family as fellow disciples and partners in the truth telling ministry of Jesus.
When I read this passage, I knew God was asking me to step into greater dependence on Him. As a 30 year old human, Jesus had surely acquired a store of knowledge and skills, not unlike our own. From His youth, He’d astounded experts with His spiritual understanding, and work as a carpenter had, no doubt, made Him strong and precise. As a member of the Holy Trinity, He understood all the mysteries that boggle human minds and had wielded the power that created all the details of the universe. Yet, Jesus Christ in the flesh goes to the wilderness to “learn” the lesson that His only hope is in God His Father. This truth carries Him throughout His earthly ministry, in which we see Him often in prayer and faithfully sharing not His own words, skills, wisdom, or power, but only that given Him by the Father. How much more do I a mere mortal need to learn this lesson of total dependency? And, as I do, what astounding victories will I begin to see?
Thank you for your favor over us and for the gifts of the truth and of your Holy Spirit. Teach me to depend on you, whether I feel strong or weak, because I know my only hope in life or ministry is in Your Word and the power of Your Spirit. Forgive me for pride and misplaced desperation. Please make me like Christ: totally humble and totally dependent on You. Forgive me, also, for times when I’ve overlooked my fellow believers as partners and have failed to seek their help or their spiritual growth. Help me to see more clearly the deep heart needs as well as the temporal needs of those around me. Make the ministry of we your people effective, through the power of Your Spirit working in us, to reveal the truth to one another and to those who don’t yet know you.