This is our second day of our 90-day challenge to read the entire New Testament this summer. Today’s reading takes us from Matthew 4 through Matthew 6.
Like you, I’m sure my perspective shapes my reading. I can read the same passages on different days, at different times, and find something different. Or, rather, I am led by the Spirit to find something different.
Today, I’ve seen something new. I see how the Spirit and the Word are leading to a radical reshuffling in the lives of people. People’s lives, in the presence of the Spirit, are forced to change. The Spirit and the Word compel people to different places and circumstances.
That, though, is a difficult position for many of us. Just how much are we led by the Spirit? Are we led by the Spirit in every moment, in every decision, in every circumstance?
For instance, the very first verse in today’s reading is this:
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.
How interesting, then, that the Word of God was led by the partnering agent of the Trinity, to be tempted. Are our own personal temptations paraded before us by the leading of the Spirit?
Here, then, are a few thoughts for today. I’ve found that a few things are lost along the way, and the compulsion of the Spirit and the Word leads people, invariably, to lose, or realign, their perception of value.
The compulsion of the Spirit and the Word leads to a loss of momentum. Jesus’ temptation, in Matthew, comes immediately after his baptism. This intense moment of ordination, with the Spirit of God descending upon Jesus like a dove, is followed by the same Spirit leading Jesus to a time of tempting. Jesus is compelled by the Spirit to leave the peace of the dove for the isolation of the desert. The momentum Jesus feels after his baptism is seemingly shattered when his humanity and his divinity are both questioned. Yet the compulsion of the Spirit enabled Jesus to withstand these various attacks. And, here, we learn that our idea of momentum is no longer about our action in the water, but God’s action of leading and saving and empowering.
The compulsion of the Spirit and the Word leads to a loss of a plans. Jesus, in 4:19, commands Peter and Andrew to walk away from their jobs, their income. (Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.) The phrase in 4:20 says they left their jobs at once. At once. No question. No wondering. No life goals. No five year plans. There is a compulsion by Jesus that dissolves all questioning. Plans are changed, and their lives are never the same.
The compulsion of the Spirit and the Word leads to a loss of fairness. Our belief of fairness rests in our idea of personal effort and achievement. If we receive good things, we believe we do so at the work of our own hands. Success. Homes. Money. Any of those things must belong to those who labor and work and plan. Be wary, though. That is karma. That is not from God.
5:45 says that God gives the sun to both the evil and good, and God gives rain to both the righteous and unrighteous. American culture gives us the luxury of personalization and isolation. We have cultivated belief systems that lead to such exclusion. Yet God’s view of humanity is the same. His provision is open to all. Our concept of fairness, and success, is shattered with an understanding that God’s provision and grace is free, and never deserved or earned.
The compulsion of the Spirit and the Word leads to a loss of performed righteousness. 6:16 begins with this powerful phrase: “When you fast …” Fasting is a necessary and powerful spiritual discipline. To ignore it, or ridicule it, or to not seek it, is to be spiritually immature. But there is more here. After a brief teaching on how the “hypocrites” fast, with such pomp and fanfare, Jesus ends, in 6:18, by saying that our fasting should be done in secret. The implication is powerful. Fasting should be done, but should not be done for public righteousness. Our time with God is private, personal. To open that special venue to the attack and impression of others just defeats the intent. Righteousness, then, isn’t bent on our effort and spiritual intent, but how we feel God’s leading, and hear God’s voice, in the private times of sincere and intense devotion.
Matthew’s gospel begins with such power. These first six chapters have already begun to reorder our relationship with God. Which is, after all, the purpose of the Word in humanity.