Matthew has some important things to say in the early chapters of his gospel regarding Scripture and God. In chapter 2, he tells the familiar story of the Magi who have been following a star in search of “the One who has born the King of the Jews,” (v. 2). There’s much we don’t know—how did they know to follow this (apparently special) star? Did an angel appear to them or a prophet instruct them? Did they gain access somehow to the Jewish Scriptures and read of the coming Messiah? We only know what Matthew tells us and his interest is in showing us that this star led them to Jerusalem. Their inquiries about finding the newborn Jewish king don’t sit well with current king (Herod), who calls his experts in to find out exactly where the Christ is to be born. It doesn’t appear that they had to unroll a scroll or pull up an app—they know it is Bethlehem and quote Micah 5:2. It’s pretty clear they know the Scripture!
What’s equally clear is when the Magi finally get back on the road and follow the star to Bethlehem—no one else goes with them! It’s about five miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem—a few hours journey at the most, and none of the chief priests or teachers of the law were willing to invest the time for the possibility of seeing the Messiah. Meanwhile, the less informed but pure hearted Magi are blessed. The takeaway from this? We’re not to automatically assume that greater knowledge of God’s word automatically means greater spirituality or greater blessings—there are other important factors to consider.
In chapter 4 we meet someone else who is quite conversant with the Scripture. Satan quotes Psalm 91:11-12 in an effort to get Jesus to throw Himself off the pinnacle of the temple. After all, what a sign it would be for the Messiah to do this in the most religious place of the most religious city. It would be a spectacular display of His faith in God. But Jesus points out that Satan is distorting what the Scripture says—the psalmist is not speaking of God protecting people who act presumptuously. And He quotes Deuteronomy 6:16 as evidence. From this we learn there is a difference between knowing what the Scripture says and understanding what it means.
Don’t miss the message! None of Matthew’s narrative is meant to discount the value of the biblical witness in our lives. It is rather to remind us that Scripture can be used or misused. It is misused when it is understood but not obeyed—knowing Scripture is never a substitute for knowing God.
What Matthew would have us to see is that Scripture is a blessing when it is used as Jesus used it. In all three of His temptations He turns to the God’s word in order to be shaped and sustained by His Father. This is the model we need to follow.