So last Sunday wasn’t just the beginning of a New Year for us at Melbourne Heights, it was also the beginning of a new sermon series called One Year From Now. And throughout this series, we want to help you think about who you want to be one year from now. And you know, that’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not easy because we all have different things that we want to accomplish over the next twelve months.
Like, we all may want to be healthier one year from now…but that can look completely different from one person to the next. One person’s idea of getting healthier may be completing their first marathon this year, while someone else just wants to get back to where they were before they had a hip or a knee replacement. Or, when it comes to your finances, some folks are focused on paying down their student loans or credit card debt while other people are doing everything they can to save up for retirement. And this is true in every area of our lives, we all have different things we want to accomplish to be who we want to be one year from now.
Well, I should say that’s true in almost every area of our lives. Because last week we saw that there is one area in our lives where we – as followers of Jesus – should have the same goal, and that’s in our spiritual lives. But here’s the thing about your spiritual life…it’s not something that can be compartmentalized. No, if you’re a follower of Jesus, your spiritual life is going to affect every other area of your life.
So the goal that we want to accomplish in our spiritual lives might just be the most important thing we can accomplish this year. So what is it that we want to accomplish spiritually to help us be the person we want to be one year from now? Well, this is the way that the Apostle Paul explains it in a letter he wrote to some of the first followers of Jesus. In Ephesians 5, Paul says:
1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (New Revised Standard Version)
So Paul says that our goal should be to imitate God. But what does that mean? What does it mean to imitate?
Well, the word imitate definitely has some negative connotations. The word imitate can be used when someone is impersonating another person – like when someone on the cast of Saturday Night Live imitates Joe Biden, Donald Trump, or another famous figure to get a laugh. And the word imitate can also refer to creating something that is counterfeit or fake.
But in the Bible, the Greek word that we translate as imitate or imitators – which is the word mimétés – never has those negative connotations. So, in the Bible imitating is always something positive. So when Paul tells us to be imitators of God, Paul is telling us that we should try to follow the manner or the character of God.
So ultimately what Paul tells us our goal as followers of Jesus should be is to be more like Jesus. So that’s the goal that we’re focusing on throughout this sermon series. One year from now, we want to help you be more like Jesus.
One year from now, we want to help you be more like Jesus.
But in order to become like Jesus, we have to know who Jesus is. So last week, as we begin this series, I challenged you to do something every day this month. To begin this New Year, I challenged you to read one chapter a day from the book of Matthew – or Matthew’s biography of Jesus. And by reading and reflecting on just one chapter a day, it can help you get to know Jesus a little better. And then, when we come together to worship each week, we’re going to dive a little deeper into something that you read the previous week so that we can work together to have a better understanding of who Jesus is so we can become more like him.
So, over the last week, I challenged you to read Matthew 1 to Matthew 7. Now, the first couple of chapters in the book of Matthew talk about Jesus’ birth…but we just spent the whole Christmas season talking about Jesus’ birth, so I don’t think we need to dive deeper into that right now. And then in Matthew 5-7, you read Jesus’ longest recorded sermon – which we usually call the Sermon on the Mount.
But the passage I want to focus on today takes place between Jesus’ birth and his first big sermon. The passage I want to focus on today is the passage where the book of Matthew starts to reveal to us who Jesus is. So if you’ve got a Bible close by go ahead and grab it and turn to Matthew 4.
And, as you’re finding it, I just want to remind you of something I said just a minute ago. The book of Matthew is a biography of Jesus. So in this book you can read about Jesus’ birth and baptism…like you did last week. You can read about Jesus’ ministry and the miracles he performed…like you’ll read about this week. And you can read about Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection…like you’ll read about toward the end of this month.
But today, we’re going to focus on an event that happens in Jesus’ life right after he was baptized. And this is when Matthew really starts to show us who Jesus is. So let’s take a look at Matthew 4 together, and we’ll start reading in verse 1. Matthew writes:
1 Then the Spirit led Jesus up into the wilderness so that the devil might tempt him. 2 After Jesus had fasted for forty days and forty nights, he was starving. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “Since you are God’s Son, command these stones to become bread.”
4 Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”
5 After that the devil brought him into the holy city and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, 6 “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down; for it is written, I will command my angels concerning you, and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.”
7 Jesus replied, “Again it’s written, Don’t test the Lord your God.”
8 Then the devil brought him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 He said, “I’ll give you all these if you bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus responded, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.” 11 The devil left him, and angels came and took care of him.
Matthew 4:1-11 (Common English Bible)
Now, right before this passage, we get our first passing glimpse of Jesus when he was baptized by John the Baptist…but in that whole chapter Jesus barely utters a sentence. So Matthew 4 is the first time we start to get a good look at who Jesus is. And you better believe that Matthew isn’t going to waste his chance to properly introduce us to Jesus.
And that’s because Matthew knows who Jesus is. Matthew knows that Jesus is the Messiah. Now, the word Messiah is one of those words we use a lot around church…but we never really stop and explain what it means. So let me explain what the word Messiah means. Messiah is a Hebrew word that means anointed, and it’s essentially the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word Christ. And both of these words refers to the way that future kings of Israel were anointed with oil before the became king.
So Matthew knows that Jesus is the anointed one of God…but because Matthew knows the whole story about Jesus, Matthew also knows that Jesus isn’t like the previous kings of Israel. So Matthew wants to make that clear as soon as he introduces us to Jesus.
So Matthew begins this passage by telling us that Jesus has been out in the wilderness fasting for 40 days and 40 nights. And those aren’t just arbitrary numbers. The fact that Matthew tells us that Jesus was fasting for 40 days and 40 nights is supposed to make us think about another Bible story. And this story is about another important person in Israel’s history…this story is about Moses.
Because as Moses was leading the people of Israel after God freed them from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, God tells Moses to climb a mountain – called Mt. Sinai – to spend time with God. And in Exodus 34:28 we’re told:
28 Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. He didn’t eat any bread or drink any water.
So right out of the gate Matthew is trying to show us that Jesus has more in common with Moses than with the kings of Israel. But Matthew doesn’t stop there. When Matthew tells us about how the devil tempted Jesus, he also records Jesus’ response to these temptations. But did you realize that every one of Jesus’ responses are things that Moses taught the people of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy?
In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses tells the people that they cannot live on bread alone. In Deuteronomy 6:16, Moses tells the people that they should not put God to the test. In Deuteronomy 6:13, Moses tells the people that they are to fear God, and serve God alone. So everything Jesus says in this passage is something that Moses taught the people of Israel.
So what Matthew wants us to know from the beginning is that Jesus is more like Moses than like the previous kings of Israel. And this is important to realize because of the way that the previous kings of Israel behaved.
I mean, just think about the way that the devil temps Jesus in this passage. In this passage, the devil tempts Jesus to turn stones into bread to feed himself. Now, if Jesus was like the previous kings of Israel, he would’ve done it because the previous kings of Israel were notorious for making sure that their needs were taken care of even if other people had to suffer – just think about the story of David and Bathsheeba. But Jesus isn’t like the previous kings of Israel, he’s like Moses who learned that God provides everything he needs…just like God sent manna from heaven to feed the people of Israel when Moses was leading them back to the Promised Land.
The second thing the devil tempts Jesus to do throw himself down from the heights of the Temple to prove that God will save him. And if Jesus was like previous kings, he would’ve done it because the previous kings of Israel had no problem testing God. I mean, time and time again the previous kings of Israel turned away from God to worship idols…if that’s not testing God’s patience, I don’t know what is. But Jesus was more like Moses, who destroyed the idols that the people of Israel created to worship.
And in the final temptation, the devil offers Jesus dominion over the whole world. And I gotta tell you, I’ve never heard about a king that didn’t want more power. But Jesus wasn’t like the previous kings, he was like Moses. And Moses was always a reluctant leader that gave up his position and his power when God told him to.
So when Matthew finally introduces us to Jesus, he wants to make it clear that Jesus isn’t like the previous kings of Israel. But why does Matthew feel like he needs to make this so clear?
Well, the people of Israel expected the Messiah to be like the ultimate version of their previous kings. They expected the Messiah to save them from foreign empires and armies and make their kingdom – the kingdom of Israel – a great and powerful kingdom again.
But Matthew didn’t want us to be looking for this kind of Messiah. Matthew wanted to show us that Jesus isn’t who we expect him to be.
Matthew wanted to show us that Jesus isn’t who we expect him to be.
And you know what? We need to approach Jesus the same way. Remember, we’re trying to learn who Jesus is so that we can become more like him. But there are plenty of people who already think they know everything there is to know about Jesus. There are plenty of people who think they know the kind of people that Jesus loved. There are plenty of people who think they know the values that Jesus had. There are plenty of people who think they know what political party Jesus would’ve been aligned with and what candidates he would’ve voted for.
So there are plenty of people who don’t think there is anything else to learn about Jesus. And you know what, this is an easy trap to fall into. I even find myself feeling this way sometimes. I mean, I have been a Christian since I was 7 years old – which means that I’ve been following Jesus for over 33 years. And when I was growing up, I could count on one hand the number of times that I missed Sunday School or church. So I read all the lessons, I listened to all the sermons, I participated in all the Bible Studies…so I should know who Jesus is.
But even if that weren’t enough, I went to college and earned my bachelor’s degree in religion. From there I went to seminary where I got my masters of divinity degree. And since then I have been pastoring for the last fifteen years. So at this point, I feel like I should know Jesus pretty well.
But from the beginning of his book, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus isn’t who we expect him to be. When you think Jesus is going to turn right, he goes left. When you think Jesus is going to condemn he shows compassion. When you think Jesus is going to praise someone he rebukes them. When you think you know what Jesus is all about, he’ll make you question everything you thought you knew.
A theologian named Elizabeth Ross describes Jesus as being an ineffable mystery…someone that will always be beyond our ability to explain. And before we move any further in these series, this is something that we all need to realize. As we try to learn more about Jesus, realize that there is still plenty for all of us to learn.
As we try to learn more about Jesus, realize that there is still plenty for all of us to learn.
There is more for you to learn about Jesus if this is the first time you’ve ever been to church. But there is also more for you to learn about Jesus if you have missed a Sunday this century. There’s more for you to learn about Jesus if you have never opened a Bible. But there is more for you to learn about Jesus if you’ve been leading Bible Studies for years. There is more for all of us to learn about Jesus.
So, as we continue through this series and as you continue to work your way through the book of Matthew this month, keep your eyes and your mind open. Don’t simply assume that you know who Jesus is. Read this stories and let Jesus show you who he is…and if you do, I guarantee you that Jesus will surprise you.