It was late in 1944, during World War II, that the allied troops were pushing their way back through Europe toward Germany. Their efforts were delayed by winter storms, much to the anger of the commander, General George S. Patton. In one of his famous moments, the frustrated general summoned an army chaplain and ordered him to produce a prayer for good weather.
The chaplain finally wrote the prayer and it was distributed to the troops. The weather immediately cleared and Patton gave the chaplain a medal (see here for details).
In that story, General Patton’s brashness is almost comical. But if we look at ourselves, that is often what we think about prayer. We live our lives. We bow our heads in church, and perhaps before meals. But we don’t seriously consider prayer until life stops working and we need help from a higher power.
Lots of people talk about prayer. It has become ingrained in our culture. Even in the Christian church, the very word, “prayer” brings up a host of mental images:
The venerable older woman praying before her bedside
The pastor delivering a lengthy prayer before his Sunday sermon
A quick prayer before a family meal
The classic picture of Jesus praying in the garden (see here).
Even outside of Christianity, many world religions have incorporated prayer as part of their rites. There are the Buddhist prayer wheels, the Hindu mantras, the Muslim prayer beads, and the Jewish Wailing Wall. Even the Catholic Church has candles and the rosary.
It is still common to see someone in a movie or on television attempt to pray when they are really scared. We still occasionally see a popular athlete pray on the sidelines after a game. All of these images bring together some popular thoughts about prayer:
It matters most that you pray, not necessarily to whom you are praying.
Prayer is for the weak.
You pray as a last resort.
Those who pray in public are putting on a religious show.
You need to say a lot of prayers before God will listen to you.
Don’t expect any real answer from God.
How many of these thoughts about prayer are true? What does Jesus say about prayer?
In his novel, David Copperfield, Charles Dickens describes a man who was a perpetual actor. James Steerforth was wealthy, articulate, handsome, and cheerful to everyone he met. But he secretly used his good looks and charm in order manipulate everyone around him. People were only valuable to him for what he could get out of them. In the story, Steerforth ended in complete disaster.
When we look at the New Testament, the Greek word for actor is hypokritēs (ὑποκριτής). The actors in the ancient Greek world would cover their faces with masks, intended to express the feelings and the attitudes of their characters.
But far beyond the direct definition, hypokritēs was also used to describe a person who would go through life as an actor, pretending to like what was popular and not showing their real self. This term for an actor quickly became known in religious circles as one who only pretended to be devout, yet had no real commitment.
We know these actors today by the same word: hypocrites.
Jesus describes hypocrites in His Sermon on the Mount when teaching about good deeds. 15 It is disturbing to read through His warnings about hypocrites. They are not overtly terrible — rather, when we look closely, they can look a lot like us!
“Hypocrisy is the homage that vice pays to virtue” – John MacArthur 5
Using common examples in in righteous living, Jesus shows how easy it is for us to forget about our good deeds, and to start thinking about ourselves.
Matthew 6:1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
After teaching about the law (see here), Jesus next teaches about good deeds. We are expected to do good works when we know Jesus Christ and are following Him (see here). Jesus has already taught that we should let people see our good works so that they can glorify God the Father (see here): 13
Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
But when our goal is to build up ourselves in front of others, or to look extra good or spiritual, then something is wrong. God will not reward us for putting on a religious show. Instead, we show ourselves to be hypocrites.
Jesus uses three examples of upright living. These are three activities that we should be doing in our lives, that will either bring us closer to God when done right, or reduce us to worthless hypocrites when done as a show for others.
The three activities that Jesus uses as examples are giving, praying, and fasting, or as one author put it, “What I do with others, what I do with God, and what I do with myself.” 12
Matthew 4 tells the beginning of Jesus Christ‘s ministry on earth. He had been waiting for 30 years, until he learned that John was baptizing in the Jordan River. He then came to be baptized, launching His three and a half year ministry (see here). In a dramatic showing, the Holy Spirit descended on him after His baptism and God the Father audibly accepted Jesus as His son.
Jesus was then taken immediately by the Holy Spirit after His baptism. He was brought to the wilderness where, after an extended fast, He was severely tempted by the devil (see here). Jesus started his ministry with a challenge from the enemy.
Now, almost a year has passed. John’s Gospel accounts tells us about this year that followed the temptation, when Jesus had stayed in the south country of Judea, gathering disciples (see John 1-4) . It was there that He met Andrew, Peter, John, Phillip, and the Nathanael (see here). It was also during this time that He threw out the corrupt businessmen from the temple (see here), and shortly afterward had a lengthy discussion with one of the top teachers of Israel, Nicodemus (see here).
Jesus also had taken a brief visit to Galilee during that year. John’s gospel account tells of how He came up to Cana for a wedding feast, and where he performed His first miracle (see here). It was also during this visit to Galilee that Jesus relocated his family from his hometown of Nazareth to the town of Capernaum, by the sea of Galilee (John 2:12).
It was about a year since Jesus‘ baptism when John the Baptist was arrested by Herod Antipas. John had been preaching in the North (Galilee) while Jesus was was in the South (Judea, John 3:22-24). Yet, when Jesus heard the news that John was arrested he knew that the time has come for him to head north. The opposition was mounting against Him and the time was growing short.
Jesus’ message was the same as John – repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The king was here, and He was getting ready to set up his kingdom. It was now time to prepare yourself for the kingdom, starting with getting right with God!
He also gathered followers as he went through Galilee. He had already known Peter, Andrew, James, and John from His time in Judea, but he now called them to leave their professions and follow him, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men”. When they heard Him, they left their fishing and immediately followed Him.
Many pastors have preached on this passage, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men“. It is a well-known quote from the gospels and it is often applied toward missions or evangelism. I have heard one popular pastor use this passage as a launching point to explain why we need to strategize and determine how to reach the world with the gospel. This is a good sentiment and is true to Scripture. However, that is not what Jesus is saying here. He gave a command and the promise. The promise is that Jesus will do the making. He will make us into fishers of men. It is not a job that we take on upon ourselves.
What is our job? Our job is to follow Him. That was Jesus’ command to Peter, to the other disciples, and therefore to all of us who believe in Him. We are to follow Him! The last scene in the four gospels is when Jesus appeared again, to Peter, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had risen from the dead and had come to restore and commission His broken disciples. His final message to Peter was the same as at the beginning, “Follow me!“ (See here).
What does it mean to follow Jesus Christ? Just like the disciples of old, we spend our time with Him, and hang out with Him. Jesus Christ consumes our thoughts and our focus. He becomes our role model.
We cannot imitate Jesus’ every action on earth, so that cannot be what it means to follow him. We cannot heal the sick like Jesus did. We cannot raise the dead. We better not say that we are God, and I trust that we will never have the opportunity to be crucified!
But this passage in Matthew shows us how we are to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit as he went to his temptation (Luke 4:1). Luke again highlights the fact that Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee (Luke 4:14). This is the key to Jesus‘ ministry, and this is how we are to follow him. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit in the same way that Jesus did. He is to direct our every move, so that we work through His power.
It is through the Holy Spirit that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee:
He was a light in the darkness
John was in prison but the need was as great as ever. This land of Galilee was historically dark because the people of that region had turned away from God, and were terribly abused by conquering nations. Isaiah predicted that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9:1-2). The persecuted, wicked people of Galilee would have the first light of the Messiah — He would bring them truth and life.
Isaiah lived over 700 years before Jesus Christ. But the people was just as dark in the time of Jesus. The people were consumed by their self-seeking ways and needed to turn back to God.
We also need to be a light to the darkness. Matthew says that Jesus went out preaching the good news about the kingdom. Our message about the kingdom may be different from Jesus (we are not the king, nor are we preaching the message of an imminent physical kingdom), but we need to be a light in darkness, bringing the good news about Jesus Christ to those who do not know Him.
He called others to follow Him
Jesus called his disciples to come and follow Him. He promised that He would make them fishers of men.
We need to call others to Jesus, but we also need to remember that we are fishers of men. The first four disciples — Andrew, Peter, James, and John — all lived different lives and had radically different ministries, yet God uses each of them to being people to Him.
We need to follow Him. He does the transforming.
“Jesus never commanded the disciples to catch fish. He commanded them to follow him and He would make them fishermen.” – Stephen Davey 6
He taught, preached, and healed
Jesus went throughout the land of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, preaching the message of the kingdom, and healing many. His fame became so great that people from the surrounding areas all came to see Him. Even the people from Judea, whom He had left to return to Galilee, followed Him north!
We will not have a ministry like Jesus, but this example shows what can happen when we are led by the Holy Spirit. God will more than fill up what we leave behind!
As a final thought, it would be good to remember what happened to the first four fishers of men. Jesus had called each of them, and promised that He would use them.
Andrew is the most noted for bringing others to meet Jesus. He first brought his brother Peter to see Him (John 1:40-41, see here). Andrew was the one to bring the boy to Jesus when He fed the 5,000 (John 6:8-9, see here), and the Greeks went through Andrew when they wanted to see Jesus in Jerusalem (John 12:20-22, see here). Church tradition holds that Andrew traveled north to preach the gospel in what is now eastern Europe and Russia.
Peter was typical example that we think of when we hear of the term, “fisher of men”. We see him leading the church in Acts, and preaching to thousands (Acts 2:38-41). Jesus predicted that Peter would die a martyr’s death and tradition says that he was crucified upside-down by the Romans.
James was always known in the gospels as accompanying his brother John, through the good and the bad. James was the first Apostle to be killed, being murdered by Herod Agrippa I in Acts 12:1-2.
John was the disciple who lived the longest. He referred to himself in the fourth gospel as “The disciples whom Jesus loved” (e.g. John 13:23). His only claim to fame was that Jesus chose to love him. John was the writer of five books of the New Testament, including the fourth gospel and the final book of the Bible, Revelation.
These were four disciples with for different lives and four different ministries. Jesus does not tell us how we will become fishers of men, he only says that we are to follow him.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could stop doing things wrong? If our lives were perfect and we never disobeyed God?
Unfortunately, it does not take long to find out that that is not the case.
Even when we belong to God, we still doubt Him and try to get what we want without Him.
We still challenge God, asking Him to meet our agenda, as if we are more important than the God of the universe!
We still look for shortcuts to meet our needs, ignoring God’s plan.
Life is a never-ending battle with temptation. And sadly, we often lose.
The Bible opens with Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, falling to temptation. They disobeyed God’s law, and the entire world descended into chaos (see here).
David, the greatest king over Israel, is well known for his fall into temptation. It only took a short walk on the roof with his wandering eyes, and we next find out that he was guilty of adultery, murder, and lies to cover up his actions (see here).
But there are also notable victories over temptation. Joseph chose to run away naked when his master’s wife tried to seduce him (see here). Daniel was taken away from his home, yet he chose to follow God and not get caught up in the idol worship of his peers (see here).
But by far, the greatest example of victory over temptation was Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus had just finished an incredible start to His ministry. He was baptized by John the Baptist, the greatest prophet in history! The Holy Spirit came visibly down upon Him, and God the Father Himself spoke from heaven to announce the Son of God!
But then the Holy Spirit took him immediately into the desert. Jesus was there for 40 days with the burning sun and the barren rocks, and with absolutely no food to eat. But He was not alone. Satan dogged His every step, trying to get Him to turn away from God.
The Bible shows Satan’s strategy for tempting people to turn away from God. They are small in number and very predictable, but extremely effective:
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life —is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Satan’s three ways to tempt us are:
The desires of the flesh — what makes us feel better?
The desires of the eyes — what looks good to us?
The pride of life — what gives us importance?
There in the desert, he used all three of these weapons against Jesus Christ.
First, he challenged Jesus personally. Jesus had not eaten for 40 days and was very hungry and physically weak. But He was the Son of God — why not do a miracle to feed Himself? This temptation was akin to the desires of the flesh — suggesting that Jesus answer His own needs for hunger.
Eating bread is an innocent activity, but the message from Satan was much more insidious. He was saying to Jesus, “Since you are the Son of God, you should be able to take care of yourself now. You no longer need to rely on the Father, and you can feed yourself!”
Jesus responded by quoting scripture back to Satan. Deuteronomy 8:3 says that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We need to depend on God, not only for our food, but for our very existence!
Satan’s next attack was at Jesus’ role as the Messiah, the King of the Jews. He took Jesus to the rooftop of the temple overlooking the steep valley below. Satan himself then quoted scripture (Psalm 91:11-12), showing that God would never let the Son of God get injured. Instead, Jesus would descend safely down to the worshippers below, and be hailed as their king. This temptation was akin to the pride of life — Satan was attempting to get Jesus to turn away from God and seek glory on His own.
Jesus had defeated Satan in the first temptation by totally trusting in God. This time, Satan used His trust in God to try and get Him to force a miracle.
Jesus responded again with a quote from Deuteronomy, this time Deuteronomy 6:16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”. We trust totally on God for our needs as we do His will. But we are testing God when we create a crisis of our own design and then demand that God get us out.
Satan was not easily overcome. He next took Jesus to a high mountain for a final challenge. Showing Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world, he offered them to Him. All Jesus needed to do was to bow down to Satan — once! This temptation was akin to the desires of the eyes — he was trying to tempt Jesus by what looked good to Him.
Satan offered Jesus a shortcut to glory. No longer would He need the three-plus years of ministry, concluded by the suffering on the cross. He could have the worship of the entire world immediately!
This is also the boldest of Satan’s temptations. He no longer couched his suggestions with “since your are the Son of God…” Now, he directly insisted that Jesus bow down to him.
Jesus’ response to Satan was decisive and direct. He quoted Deuteronomy 6:10, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”It was wrong for Jesus to try and shortcut God’s plans, but it was especially wrong to ever bow down to Satan!
Jesus also finally commands Satan to leave him, “Be gone, Satan! ” Satan then left Jesus for a more opportune time.
Jesus was attacked in every way by Satan’s temptations, but he emerged victorious! Jesus never disobeyed God, and when challenged, he always answered His challenges with God’s word.
What can Jesus’ example teach us about temptation?
Expect temptation to come!
Temptation is a part of our life when we belong to Jesus Christ. The closer we get to Him, the more Satan will attempt to pull us back.
But we need to anticipate the temptations, knowing that we can win. Defend yourself when you are weak, and be ready to answer back when temptation comes.
1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.
Answer temptation with God’s Word!
Jesus relied totally on God’s word when confronted by Satan. Immerse yourself in God’s word, keeping Him on your mind and heart for when the tempter comes.
Psalms 119:11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Resist the devil!
Jesus sent away Satan after the attack. We have the same promise that he will flee from us when we resist him. Note, however, that it is not enough to simply stand up against the devil. We need to first submit to God. We need to let God fill the place in our life that was formerly taken over by the devil.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Jesus went through the same temptations as us, so He understands when we are tempted. We need to make it a habit to first come to God when temptation comes. Stay close to Him and ask Him for the grace and the strength to get through it.
Hebrews 4:14-16 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
I remember many of my children’s books that I had when I was younger. There were colorful Bible Story books, showing scenes and characters from popular events.
But there was one character that I always loved to see. They always pictured him in a faraway place, holding a long staff and wearing strange clothes. He had to be the strangest man that could ever think of:
He lived in the desert!
He dressed in camel hair (my picture books always showed him wearing some strange, hairy toga)!
He always had a big beard (in all my picture books)!
HE ATE BUGS!!
My Bible Story books showed people coming from far and wide to hear him. They would go into the desert to listen to this strange man preach. He would then lead them into the Jordan River where he would baptize them.
As I grew older, I saw many movies which dramatized the life of this man in the desert. He was no longer just a picture in a book, but a live person walking through my TV screen. It seemed like all the movies depicted this person, John the Baptist, as a very angry man. He was always shouting at people, trying if he could to scare them into repentance.
As we look at the Bible says, the picture of John the Baptist emerges as a very important man. Jesus would later describe John as the greatest man who ever lived (Matthew 11:11)!
Jesus Christ, the King of the Jews, was about to arrive. John’s message had the following parts:
First, the king is coming! The long-awaited Messiah was about to be here! He would come and set up His kingdom on earth as the prophets foretold.
Second, the people were not ready. They needed to repent!
Finally, if their repentance was true, then they needed to come into the Jordan River with John. They would put their heads under the water and demonstrate to the world that they were now ready for the kingdom.
What does it mean to repent? It is much more than simply being sorry for disobeying God. Repentance involves both the knowledge and the sorrow that you have violated the law of a Holy God. It then involves a conscious act to turn away from your disobedience and to turn to God.
“Repentance means that the natural man takes God’s side against himself.” – H.A. Ironside 6
This was John’s message, but he had opposition. The religious leaders came to see why he was upsetting the status quo. John compared them to deadly snakes and urged them to flee from the fires of God’s judgement.
These religious leaders were caught up in their own imaginations about what it meant to be right with God. They believed that they were safe from God’s judgement because of their family relations — they were descendants of Abraham! They also believed that God would look favorably on them because they worked so hard to keep the law. But John said that all of these things — the family connections, their own good deeds — they all were worthless to God. They needed to come back to Him.
There was no longer any time for middle ground. You need to either repent and join the king, or be swept away in God’s wrath.
The people were impressed by John, but he always deflected their praise (see also here). He was not the king, he was simply the announcer for the king. When the king comes, John did not consider himself worthy to wash his feet!
Most of us have head of John the Baptist before this. The story of his life may not give you any new information. However, don’t forget some of the things that God is showing us through his life:
If you have not turned to God, then the time is now! Repent and join Him! You may not have another chance!
If you already belong to God but are not obeying Him, then you too need to repent. Don’t let this day go by before you get right with God!
Don’t stop at the inward steps of repentance, but show it in your life. If you really have turned from your disobedience and turned to God, then there will be real, tangible changes in your life.
Don’t let your pride or preconceptions stand in the way of getting right with God. Very few of the religious leaders believed John because they thought they knew better.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
Matthew’s second chapter continues his account of the promised King.
Who was this king? Who is this person that Matthew was writing about?
Matthew’s first chapter told of the heritage and birth of the new king. He has the heritage and the rights of the great dynasty of Israel, going back to King David himself. His birth was a miracle, born to a poor unmarried woman and her betrothed husband.
But why should we care? Why should our modern world care about an ancient Jewish king?
Because He is much more than that. He is not simply some distant story. He was God Himself, come to mankind!
Matthew’s account is clear: He was born to a human mother among a human family. He was very much human (see here).
But His father was God (see here, here, and here). Therefore he was also very much God.
And He came for a purpose. Matthew stated His purpose in his first chapter, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He will save His people from their sins. He was the promised one that the Jews had been waiting for, their Messiah!
But Matthew then showed that Jesus did not only come for the Jews. He was born to a Jewish family, but some of His first attendants were outsiders, or Gentiles.
Jesus was still a young child — probably only a few months old — when He was visited by dignitaries from far away. These visitors, or Magi, had learned of the new king and come to worship Him.
Even at the start, Jesus’ own people didn’t care for Him (see here). The religious leaders knew exactly where He would be. They even gave directions for the Magi but they never came.
The king over the Jews saw Him as a threat. King Herod knew that this was the long-awaited Messiah, and he tried to kill him. At first he tried to use deception to find the baby. When that failed, he resorted to massacre. He sent his soldiers to murder all the young boys in Bethlehem!
But it was these outsiders, the ones who should have never cared, who came to worship Jesus the Messiah. The Magi used their own resources to travel a long and dangerous road, carrying priceless gifts, unsure of the final destination.
God had given them a glimpse of His glory, in the form of a bright light, in their home country of Babylon. That vision caused them to come to Jerusalem, seeking the new king of the Jews. They were then directed to the nearby village of Bethlehem, where they again encountered God’s light. They found the new king and worshipped Him, giving their gifts.
Most of us have heard about the “wise men” as part of the Christmas story. It can seem distant, exotic, and very removed from our present lives. But we should take time to remember some of the lessons from these wise men (or Magi):
The Magi knew very little about God, but they followed what they knew. They didn’t know His location but they came gladly to worship!
You don’t need a Jewish heritage to worship Jesus Christ. You only need to follow Him.
God does not look for those who are especially powerful, religious or smart. The educated priests ignored Jesus Christ and the powerful king wanted to kill Him!
God will protect His own! He directed Joseph to take Jesus and Mary away to Egypt when Herod wanted to kill him, and then back to Israel when it was safe to return.
If you were to tell the story of a great king, what would you tell about his beginning?
Most stories have the king born amidst splendor, with the great people of his day. Others may tell a great “rags to riches” story, how the great king emerged from such a humble start.
But for the King of Kings, the truth is greater than any fiction that we could imagine! Jesus Christ Himself came to earth, born of a poor village girl, in the middle of a terrible scandal.
His mother, Mary, became pregnant out of wedlock. She had had no relations with a man — there was no human father. The baby was a miracle from God Himself.
Mary was away for several months, visiting her cousin Elizabeth. She returned to her conservative, religious small town of Nazareth, showing that she was obviously pregnant. Nobody believed her.
Her own husband didn’t believe her. She was betrothed to Joseph, anticipating the great celebration where they would fulfill the ceremony and become man and wife. But all Joseph could see was that his wife was unfaithful to him. He cared enough for Mary to not make a public scene, but he could never marry her after what she had done. He opted for a quiet divorce.
This was the beginning of the life of the King of Kings. Born to a scandalized mother and a heartbroken father.
But Matthew’s account is not about Mary, nor is it really about Joseph. This was about the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit created the embryo in Mary’s womb. He also sent an angel to direct Joseph. There were things that Joseph needed to know about the child, and things Joseph needed to do.
Joseph needed to complete the marriage. Mary was not unfaithful and she was his wife.
The child was the work of the Holy Spirit. God was directly intervening with mankind, and the result was the baby who was growing in Mary’s womb.
Joseph was to name the child Jesus, meaning, “Jehovah is Savior”.
This baby has a special purpose. He will save his people from their sins. He will be the long awaited Messiah!
Matthew shared the beginning of the life of Jesus Christ on earth, showing a sharp contrast between what the world sees as opposed to but God sees.
The world saw Mary as an adulteress, who had a baby without a husband. God saw her as a pure woman who was willing to follow and obey Him regardless of the cost (see here).
The world saw Joseph as a poor carpenter who was either complicit or the cause of Mary’s adultery. God saw him as a man willing to follow Him in protecting and caring for the young Messiah.
The world saw Jesus as an illegitimate child. God knew that he was a miracle of the Holy Spirit, and the One who would be the Saviour of the world.
The apostle Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians that the wisdom of God is seen as foolish to the world, yet the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. It is so easy to see ourselves and others as what the world sees us. We need to look at people the way God sees them.
Finally, we should never go to Matthew’s gospel account without being challenged to renew our appreciation for Jesus Christ. He is the King of Kings; He is the long awaited Messiah to the Jews; He is the one who will save the world from the curse of sin!
The New Testament opens with a message for the Jewish people. It is a message that they will not accept, given by one of the most hated people.
The Romans in the first century relied upon a hierarchy of publicani, or tax gatherers, in order to collect taxes for the empire. Local merchants would pay for the privilege to collect from their countrymen. These local tax gatherers would often add on a large percentage of taxes for themselves, thus becoming both very wealthy and very hated by the local people.
The tax gatherers were considered the worst of society. They were often used in the gospels to illustrate bad people, with the synonymous term, “tax gatherers and sinners” (e.g. Matthew 9:11, Mark 2:16).
Matthew (also known as Levi) was such a tax gatherer who left his business to follow Jesus (see the passages here). Matthew turned from his old life to become one of Jesus’ twelve apostles (see here).
Matthew’s message to the Jewish people is that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the long-awaited king who has come to save His people (see here).
Matthew’s gospel account begins by showing that Jesus deserves the title of king. Jesus is the descendent of David and heir to the throne over all Israel.
The first part of Matthew’s gospel account traces Jesus’ family tree back to Abraham. This family tree dates back for 2,000 years and includes many heroes of Old Testament history, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many of the kings of Judah. This list includes some of the greatest men to have ever lived.
This list included some very evil men. Rehoboam was the foolish king who divided his father’s kingdom. Manasseh was so wicked and violent that God promised to remove the kingdom because of him. Jeconiah was cursed to never have a descendent to sit on the throne of Israel (see Jeremiah 22:30).
This list included scandals. Judah fathered Perez because his daughter-in-law disguised herself as a prostitute. David took Bathsheba as wife after adultery and murder. Jehoshaphat married his son Jehoram to the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, setting up two generations of family murder and intrigue.
This list included foreigners and women. Rahab was the Canaanite prostitute who rescued the Israelite spies and turned to follow their God. Ruth was the Moabite widow who chose to remain faithful to her destitute mother-in-law.
The list ends with Joseph, who would be the legal guardian of Jesus the Messiah.
What is the point of this history lesson? Is it simply a chance to reflect on history, with perhaps a chance to walk down memory lane?
Of the many lessons that we can gather from this passage, remember the following:
God can use broken people!
The family history of Jesus Christ is full of fallible humans. Even among the great figures in history:
Abraham lied and tried to build his family through a slave girl
Isaac was partial to one son over the other
Jacob was a liar and a deceiver
David was an adulterer and a murderer
Solomon was a polygamist
Asa would not trust God
Jehoshaphat befriended the evil kings of Israel
Uzziah tried to become a priest
Hezekiah bargained with God for his life
Josiah had three wicked sons
If God was able to use broken people in past, He is just as able to use you and me, despite our failures.
God’s plan is not broken by evil people!
The bloodline of Jesus Christ was never broken!
Even when Jehoram was murdering his brothers and Athaliah was murdering her grandchildren, God’s plan never failed.
Even when Manasseh was searching Jerusalem so that he could murder anyone who was faithful to God, His plan never failed.
Even when the Babylonian army was burning the temple and taking the people into exile, God’s plan was never broken.
If God’s plan never failed through the worst of ancient history, He is fully able to keep his plans today, despite anyone who rises to oppose Him.
Jesus is king!
Jesus is the king, not only over ancient Israel, but over the world today. He has all authority over heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).
Jesus still has just as much authority today as He did 2,000 years ago. We can know that, through all of our uncertainties, He is still king!