As we follow Matthew’s build-up to the Sermon on the Mount,
we can see a trend that threatens the fanciful notion of blessing putting one beyond the brutal stress tests of life. Mary’s miracle pregnancy brings great anguish to Joseph, but with the help of an angelic visit, he is reassured. Jesus is born and blessed by noble visitors, only to be followed by death squads sent by a cruel ruler. The blessed family is able to take asylum in Egypt, but the tension of realizing the son of the ruler who sought to kill Jesus was now in charge pressured them to relocate to Nazareth on their return to Israel. Being blessed was no reprieve from being stressed for Jesus’ family.
Matthew then introduced John as the prophet Isaiah said would come to bring blessing to God’s people by clearing a path to reveal God to them. John called people to leave the stress of their entangled lives and join him in the wilderness with a fresh start with God. The religious leaders came out and had a stressful encounter with John as he challenged their piety with accusations of being rotten. And then Jesus showed up.
John resisted Jesus’ desire to be baptized, but Jesus prevailed. Expressing his allegiance to the Kingdom of the heavens, Jesus rose up and was blessed by his father.
So what happens next?
The Spirit that blessed Jesus gently then led him into an excruciating stress test. For forty days of wilderness hardships, the one who was blessed lived out his declaration of allegiance to the Kingdom of the heavens by faithfully enduring diabolically stressful temptations.
All of this leads to a question for us to ask about our own lives:
Does our stress in life negate how blessed we are?
Or should our understanding of blessing make room for experiences that test us intensely, even as we live with God’s blessing upon us?