A short reflection given at the beginning of a study of the Gospel of Matthew for our WCSS study.
I was surprised this week at the length of Chapter 4 in the Gospel of Matthew. Though the chapter is short, it describes a couple of very important stories about salvation history – the Temptation of Christ at the beginning of His ministry and the calling of the first disciples. As I read the chapter and worked on the lesson, I could imagine myself standing there listening and watching the action unfold.
Then one evening as I was preparing for bed, having read Chapter 4 of Matthew once again, I looked over at a framed print in my bedroom. It is a copy of a famous painting of Jesus kneeling in the Garden of Gethsemane, painted by Heinrich Hoffman in 1890. I am sure you all know the one I am speaking about – Jesus is calmly kneeling next to a big rock, praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. A beam of light shines upon his head.
The picture by Hoffman had hung in my parent’s bedroom for as long as I can remember. After mom passed away in 2008, three years after dad, I took the picture home and hung it in my bedroom, as a reminder of all those years my parents were with us and all the people who were so precious to me.
There is something special about the picture that hung in mom and dad’s bedroom – gazing at it gives me a kind of peace. But a few days ago, when looking at the picture, I realized something I had not thought of before – that Jesus was tempted both at the beginning and the end of His ministry.
The Temptation we read about this week in Chapter 4 had to do with the choices presented to Jesus – choices as to how He would carry out the mission entrusted to Him by His Father. Would Jesus be a Messiah who taught and healed His people and turned them away from sin, or would He become a political Messiah, one who had great power, who was adored and worshipped for the economic benefits He could provide? Jesus chose to follow the will of His Father – to teach and to heal all who came to Him and to turn the people’s hearts back to God.
Nearing the end of His earthly life Jesus also had a choice to make. Praying alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing the suffering and death which awaited Him, Jesus asked His Father if the cup of suffering could be taken from Him. When His Father said “no, My Son”, Jesus could have just walked away. The Apostles were sleeping some distance away and no one else was about. No one would have known Jesus was gone until Judas and the soldiers showed up to arrest Him some hours later. Instead, as Jesus had done at the very beginning of His ministry, He did the will of His Father in heaven. He chose to die a painful death and show the world for all time the Love of Our Awesome God.
Because Jesus resisted the temptations that were presented to him, the gates of Heaven were opened. No more is there a thick chain and big padlock on the gates; no angels with flaming swords turn away unwanted visitors. Instead Our Heavenly Father waits patiently, looking for us as we struggle slowly and painfully up that narrow and difficult path to His Kingdom. And when Our Father sees us coming near, He runs out to embrace us and welcome us “home”.
Heavenly Father, we have no words to thank You for what You have done for us. You have given us our lives and a wonderful world to inhabit. When we disobeyed your commands, You sent Your Son to show us the way back to You. Every day we are faced with many choices – Help us to have the strength and the courage and the love to embrace the choices that bring us closer to You.