Having come into the world to save His people (Matt. 1:21), Jesus begins His ministry when He identifies with God’s chosen, Israel, in His baptism and follows the Spirit into the wilderness to face Satan (3:13–4:1). In the desert, Jesus shows Himself to be the new Israel, the second Adam and true Son of God, so that His disciples can be adopted as the Father’s children (John 1:9–13).
When the Devil comes to Jesus in today’s passage, the Messiah has been “fasting forty days and forty nights” and is obviously hungry (Matt. 4:2). This reveals the hard place in which Jesus finds Himself. Scripture often associates forty days and nights with difficult circumstances. For example, Elijah endured the same period without food while on the run from Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1–8). The setting of Jesus’ testing is similarly arduous and presents a challenge that Adam, who lived in Eden’s bliss, never faced.
Satan wants Jesus to turn from His vocation as the Suffering Servant when he challenges Him to turn stones to bread (Matt. 4:3). We know this to be true because the Devil’s challenge is just like the one the crowd hurls at Jesus in Matthew 27:40, where the people mock Him, calling upon Him to come down from the cross. Of course, doing this would mean that Jesus distrusts both His Father’s promises to save the elect through His death and to vindicate His Son’s affliction (Isa. 53). Jesus has been sent into the desert to endure fasting and suffering until His appointed time (Matt. 4:1). To seek sustenance contrary to God’s appointment would repeat the mistake of Israel who was similarly tested for faithfulness (Deut. 8:1–3) and disobeyed when they grumbled and refused to follow the Lord’s directions when He sent manna from heaven (Ex. 16).
Yet Christ refuses to use His divine power to circumvent His task of suffering service. He is not willing to stuff His belly and stand before the Father emptied of righteousness. Jesus will be satisfied to eat the food given Him — doing the will of God (John 4:34) — even if His physical hunger is not satiated. Our Lord understands, as the church father Jerome said, that “if anyone does not feed upon God’s Word, that one will not live” (Commentary on Matthew, 1.4.4).
Matthew Henry comments, “Lack and poverty are a great temptation to discontent and unbelief, and the use of unlawful means for our relief, under the pretence that necessity has no law.” Despite His hunger pains, our Lord chose the food of His Father and embraced His mission of suffering. Let us follow Him and not let a potential loss of money or fame prevent us from embracing the mission of service He has given to us.
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