I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: Matthew 4:1-11
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for 1st Sunday in Lent
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1. c.f. Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation …” Does the Spirit also lead us into temptation?
2. The devil seeks us when we are weak. Yet fasting is a spiritual discipline. So Jesus would have been physically weak but spiritually strong. How can we turn physically weakening events into strength building events?
2. A literal 40-day fast would be humanly impossible. Would 1st century people have a different understanding of a long fast? Would it have included more than water?
3. How do we continue to tempt God for proof of divine reality/power?
4. Consider those who have died rather than reject God.
4. “Lord, won’t you buy me Mercedes Benz?”
5. How do we continue to tempt God for proof of divine reality/power?
8. Why does God limit divine power? Why won’t God speak aloud to the nations?
11. Matthew includes Jesus conception by the Holy Spirit to counter perceptions that the temptation marked the transition from human to divine.
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- The narrative jumps abruptly from the John’s baptism of Jesus to his temptation, and from the temptation to news of John’s arrest.
II. Literary Study.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- Mark 1:12-13 – between baptism and calling the disciples. Temptation occurs during the forty days rather than afterwards. Wild animals and angels attend Jesus possibly even during his fast. No dialog between Jesus and Satan.
- Luke 4:1-13 – Temptation lasts all of the 40-days; questions occur during the 40-days. Tempter named the devil. Temptations ordered differently: bread, worship, testing God. The devil leaves when the testing is done, instead of after Jesus’ dismissal. Alludes to further temptation/encounters at an opportune time.
- John – No Temptation. Calling of the disciples occurs immediately after Jesus’ baptism by John.
- Deut 8:3 (NRSV) – He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.
- Deut 6:13 (NRSV) – The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.
- Psalm 91:11-12 (NRSV) – For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
- Deut 6:16 (NRSV) – Do not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. [At Massah the Hebrews tested God asking: “Is the LORD among us or not?”]
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- Every other time peirazo is used in Matthew, the tempters/testers are human beings: Pharisees and Sadducees (16:1); Pharisees (19:3); Pharisees and Herodians (22:18); and a legal expert (22:35). Jesus always responds to these tests with scriptures — either direct quotes or allusions — as he does in our text.
- The Greek Satanas is a transliteration of the Hebrew word for “adversary.” In the Hebrew scriptures the satans or “adversaries” are primarily other people, not supernatural beings. This word is used in two other verses in Matthew. In Satanas 12:26 refers to a supernatural being or power: “If *Satan* drives out *Satan*, he is divided against himself. How can his kingdom stand.” In 16:23, it refers to a human being: “Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Out of my sight, *Satan*! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.'”
- diabolosusually translated “Devil” literally means “the slanderer” or as an adjective: “slanderous”. (This other meaning is used in 1 Tim 3:11; 2 Tim 3:3; Tit 2:3.) It is the word used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew _SaTaN_, which, as I noted above, literally means “adversary”. (Besides the four instances in our text (vv. 1, 5, 8, 11; it also occurs in 13:39 and 25:41 of Matthew.)
- ei– if/since: The deceiver does not challenge the divine sonship of Jesus, but challenges Jesus to demonstrate his authority.
III. Question the text.
B. Are there any unusual details? Un-named characters? ‘Pointless’ description? Meanings of names of characters? What does a literal meaning of natural metaphors imply?
Forty-days and forty-nights: Recalls days of rain endured by Noah in the ark. Recalls the testing of Israel during 40 years in the desert. Recalls the 40 year cycles in the book of Judges.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Center of Gravity: Jesus was tempted, as we also are tempted. But Jesus withstood temptation, so that he might take on our sins.
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- This is the pure conflict between good verses evil. It ends with Satan choosing to withdraw. The conflict seen here echoes in later conflicts between Jesus and various powers, and echoes in our own lives.
E. Is there anything you wish the author had included in the passage? Why do you think this was not a part of Scripture?
- The devil quickly cedes each point. Too often life presents us with related temptations after we beat back an initial temptation. Or wears us down with trivial temptations before presenting the main temptation. Yet God wants us to know that each and every temptation is easily satisfied with the Word of God.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- Is the devil/Satan real? What do we mean by the devil/Satan being “real?”
- How can I avoid/mitigate temptation by the devil/Satan?
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
BRIAN STOFFREGEN (EcuNet: GOSPEL NOTES FOR NEXT SUNDAY: dated: 2/3/2008 8:04 AM) asks: What’s wrong with turning stones into bread (if one can do it) to feed the hungry? Later, Jesus will turn a couple fish and five loaves of bread into a feast for 5000. What’s wrong with believing scriptures so strongly that he trusts the angels to protect him? Later, Jesus will walk on water, perhaps slightly less difficult than floating on air. What’s wrong with the King of kings and Lord of lords assuming control over the kingdoms of the world? Isn’t that what we are expecting at the parousia?
Robert Gundry (Matthew, Eerdmans Publishing, 1982) notes parallels with testing of Israel in the desert, which Israel failed. He notes Moses also fasted for 40 days while receiving the law on Mount Sinai.
M. Eugene Boring (The New Interpreter’s Bible: Vol. VIII; “Matthew,” Abingdon, 1995) asserts “there was no Jewish tradition that the Messiah would be tempted by Satan.” He also notes the similarity with ancient tales of rabbis who battled each other with Scripture. He surmises that throughout the Gospel God is the hidden actor and Satan is the hidden opponent, only appearing here in character.
Sara Covin Juengst (Horizons Bible Study Vol. 9 No. 3: Encounters with Jesus, 1996, Presbyterian Women, Presbyterian Church, USA) asks several thought provoking questions, including: “What is the fallacy in using [‘the devil made me do it’] about our temptations?” “In what ways do you put God to the test?” “Why is it so difficult to believe God will provide for ALL your needs?” “What kinds of false loyalties are we tempted to have in today’s world?”
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?