We find ourselves again in another Advent season. Radio stations are playing Christmas songs. Churches are beginning to schedule special services. We’re climbing steep ladders to decorate our homes, we’re digging through closets to find the Christmas wrapping paper we bought last year, and we’re beginning to keep an eye on all the sales going on around town.
Can I ask a question: Why?
What’s the point of all this? Why do we put ourselves through this year after year? It’s too easy amid all the hustle and bustle of the season to forget why we do these things. And even when we remember it and hear the story of the manger and the shepherds and the wise men, we miss it because its become familiar. So familiar, that we often don’t feel the wonder of the incarnation. My hope is that this Advent season will be different for you, that it will truly be a season of wonder and joy.
Pastor and blogger Austin Wynn summarizes the meaning of Christmas in this way: “Christmas is the story of a how a big, holy God came to dwell with a little, unholy people. Don’t be fooled by the smallness of the baby in the manger or the insignificant place in which He was born. It may not look like much, but this is God. The God who lit the fire of a thousand blazing suns with just His words. The God who parted a giant sea to save His people. The God who sent fire from heaven at Elijah’s prayer. This is that God. If you and I could somehow hop on a time machine and travel back to the stable and look this baby in the face, nothing about His appearance would scream, ‘I am God!’, yet He was. That same Child who cried for his mother’s milk and seemed so vulnerable would soon fast for forty days in the wilderness, walk on water, drive out demons, and still storms…with just His words.”
For us this Advent season I want to ask you one question and give you four answers. The question and title of this series is ‘What Child is This?’ Today I’ll give you Matthew’s answer. In the weeks to follow, Lord willing, I’ll give you Mark’s answer, Luke’s answer, and then spend the next year and half to two years giving you John’s answer as we go through his gospel verse by verse.
So…‘What Child is This?’ Matthew’s answer is this. Jesus came to bring a new creation, to be a true Israel, and a true Adam. To see these things let’s turn to Matthew 3:13-4:11, follow along as I read our passage.
As soon as we jump into this portion of Matthew’s gospel we find ourselves witnessing two of the most pivotal moments in Jesus’ life, His baptism and His temptation. It is in taking these two moments together that Matthew intends to tell us something about who Jesus is and what He came to do.
In order for us to understand His baptism we need to remember how the book of Malachi ends. In Malachi 4:5-6 God says this, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” Malachi prophesies that before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes, God will send Elijah the prophet to turn the hearts of the people back to one another rather than striking the land with destruction. After Malachi there was 400 years of silence until the great quiet was broken by a prophet named John the Baptist who preached about the coming kingdom and the One who would come after Him who takes away the sin of the world. Once Jesus came He said Himself in Matthew 11:14 that “If you’re willing to accept it, John the Baptist is the Elijah to come.” Jesus didn’t mean that this Baptist was literally Elijah reincarnated, but that John was a prophet like Elijah who would prepare the way for His arrival. This is why most people view John the Baptist as the last Old Testament prophet.
John the Baptist preached boldly saying he was unworthy to even carry the sandals of the One who was coming after him. He lived simply wearing clothes made from camel’s hair and eating a diet of locusts and wild honey. He baptized openly in a time when only the religious elites offered any kind of spiritual leadership. And he served humbly knowing that He must decrease and the One coming after Him, Jesus, must increase more and more. John’s called people to repentance because of one reason: the kingdom was coming. Because the kingdom was coming it meant both that salvation is almost here and damnation was near. But something happened that John didn’t expect. In v13 Jesus came to be baptized by him. John didn’t know what to do about this and didn’t want to do it but Jesus answered him saying in v15 that His baptism was to fulfill all righteousness. David Platt explains this statement well saying, “He who had no sin took His place among those who had no righteousness.” Of course this is meant to prepare us for the sinless life Jesus was already living and would soon bring to completion for us, and how His life would become our very own righteousness by faith. John baptizes Jesus in v16-17 and what happened was a sight to behold. As Jesus went up from the water the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Him like a dove, and the Father spoke from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In this moment we see a Trinitarian display of glory. In this baptism the Son obeys, the Spirit anoints, and the Father speaks.
Chapter 3 then ends and we move into chapter 4 where Jesus is immediately led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. Here we’re reminded on the surface of this event that the world we live in is a spiritual world, with a spiritual enemy, who entangles ourselves and all men in a universal and very personal spiritual warfare with the highest of stakes: eternal life or eternal death. Off Jesus goes to tempted by Satan and to a real degree, tested by God. For 40 days Jesus gives Himself to fasting and we see His humanity afterwards when it says in 4:2 “and He was hungry.” Then the tempter, the devil, came to Him and tempted Him saying, “If You are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” This first temptation is a temptation towards self-gratification, because the devil was saying, ‘If You are the Son of God, why are You starving? Doesn’t Your Father care for You? Can’t You satisfy Your hunger right now on Your own? If You can, why not, go ahead and turn these stones to bread.’ Hunger is a good thing. Food and drink are good gifts of God to man. But we are often tempted, as Jesus was here, to satisfy our wants in our own way apart from God’s will. We desire food, and rather than being content with what God has given us we are tempted to unrestrained overeating. We desire to have others like us, and rather than being content with God’s approval we are tempted to put on a face or be someone we’re not, to win the approval of man. We desire sex, and rather than being content with what God has given us we are tempted to lust, pornography, adultery, or homosexuality. At the core of it is this: we know God provides for us, but He often provides for us in ways we don’t like, so we enter into the struggle of self-gratification.
Jesus responds to this temptation with Scripture quoting Deut. 8, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” So rather than yielding to His own desires He quotes this passage to state His trust in God who will always care for Him in the ways He wisely sees fit.
Next in v5-6 the devil took Jesus to the top of temple and said “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written: ‘He will command His angels concerning You’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” This second temptation is a temptation towards self-protection. The temple was a symbol of God’s power and presence among His people. Psalm 91, the place Satan quotes from here, is a Psalm about God’s protection of His people. Satan quotes it not only to mimic what Jesus just did earlier in quoting Deut. 8, but to trick Jesus into using Psalm 91 to manipulate God the Father into proving that Jesus really was His Son by not allowing Him to die if He jumped off the top. Again, God’s power and protection of us is a good thing, but we are prone to question God’s protection when bad things don’t go our way, and we even try to manipulate God’s promises to get Him to protect us. We do this by asking for signs of His presence, twisting His promises to our personal preferences, and complaining about our circumstances. This is the struggle of self-protection.
Jesus responds to this temptation with Scripture quoting Deut. 6, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” So rather than yielding to manipulating God’s promises He quotes this passage to state His trust in God who will always hold Him in the shadow of His wings.
Next in v8-9 the devil took Jesus to the top of a tall mountain so He could see all the kingdoms of the world saying, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” This third temptation is a temptation towards self-worship. You may wonder here: ‘why Satan does tempt Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world if Jesus already knows one day they will be His?’ Well probably because Jesus also knows that His road to exaltation goes through humiliation, His crown will come to Him through a cross. See the temptation then. Satan says promises exaltation without humiliation and a crown without a cross. We are tempted in the same ways when we believe that God offers us a crown without a cross, success without suffering, and glory without the grave. People who believe that we will have our best life now are merely repeating the words of the devil here in v9. This comes closer to home than we think, because we all prefer comfort over conflict. This is a struggle with self-worship because in believing this we are lifting up ourselves over God, believing what we want to about our future regardless what Scripture says, and when we do that, when we lift ourselves over God, we become idolaters.
No surprise now, Jesus responds to this temptation with Scripture quoting Deut. 6, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” Jesus chose to live in submission to His Father instead of sinful submission to the devil, which brought Him immeasurable suffering, but in the end brought Him all authority in heaven and earth.
This is all great, but what does this have to do with Advent? In the two events of Jesus’ baptism and temptation, we notice certain patterns we’ve seen before in the Bible being repeated.
1) New Creation
In Genesis 1:2 the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation, and in Exodus 14:21 a ‘strong wind’ (wind also being ‘spirit’ in Hebrew) drove back the waters of the red sea making way for God’s people to safely go through. Here in our passage the Spirit of God similarly hovers over the Son of God at His baptism in the Jordan River. In each of these moments we see the Spirit hovering over water. It is not a coincidence that we find all of this same Genesis 1:2 and Exodus 14:21 activity at Jesus’ baptism. Just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the creation of the world in Genesis and just as the Spirit hovered over the waters of the Red Sea in the creation of Israel in the Exodus, so too the Spirit hovered over Jesus in the waters of baptism to teach that Jesus came to, not to bring creation, but a to bring a new creation.
2) True Israel
In Exodus 4:22 God calls Israel His ‘firstborn son’ and in 1 Cor. 10:2 Paul calls Israel’s passing through the Red Sea their ‘baptism.’ Question: where did Israel, God’s son, go after they were baptized in the Red Sea? Into the wilderness. Second question: where did Jesus go after His baptism in 4:1? Into the wilderness, led by the Spirit. Is it a coincidence that we see the almost the exact same Holy Spirit activity at work in the Exodus and Jesus’ baptism? No, it’s not. God planned for it to be this way to teach us that with the coming of Christ not only comes a new creation, but that a new and greater exodus comes as well. An exodus in which God will once again save His people, not from Pharaoh, but from the greater pharaoh ‘Satan, sin, and death’ and will take His people a new and greater promised land. So, Jesus by being baptized and going into the wilderness replays the story of Israel in His own life. The difference shines through when we see that while Israel was unfaithful in their wilderness, Jesus is faithful in His. He is the true Israel.
3) True Adam
There are more similarities between Jesus temptation in Matthew 4 with Adam and Eve’s temptation in Genesis 3. Both Adam and Jesus are tempted to eat food God has forbid, for Adam it was fruit, for Jesus it was stones. In both tempting’s the devil used the same bait, ‘Did God really say?’ ‘Adam, did God really say you wouldn’t die?’ ‘Jesus, did God really say He would always care for You?’ Again, Jesus by being tempted by the devil with the same bait replays the story of Adam in His own life. The difference shines through when we see that while Adam was unfaithful in his tempting, Jesus is faithful in His. He is (praise God!) the true Adam!
So…‘What Child is This?’ Matthew’s answer is ever hopeful for unfaithful sinners like you and me. Jesus came to bring a new creation, Jesus came to show Himself as the true Israel, and Jesus came to show Himself as the true Adam.
Because of this: Satan will be cast down in defeat and the Church will rise up in victory!