Introducing Matthew’s gospel! The first book of the New Testament. (Not the first N T book to be written, but the first to appear in our Bibles). Matthew tells us where Jesus came from, who were his ancestors, how God caused a virgin named Mary to conceive and bear this One who is the Son of God, Emanuel, God with us! What immediate threats he faced and how God protected him from certain death as a child, the Herod story Matthew alone tells us. I realize this is not Christmas, and that is a good thing. We need to remember Godâ€™s gift of love in Jesus Christâ€™s birth and coming to us all through the year! Today is a great day to begin the gospel of Matthew and recall and reflect on its message. So letâ€™s begin by introducing Matthew and then look at his message about Jesus. Nowhere do we find Matthew telling us that he wrote this gospel. So how do we know it was him? Ignatius of Antioch is the earliest known writer to quote from Matthewâ€™s gospel in about 115 A.D. But a writer named Papius is the first account known to actually name the author of this gospel. Papius wrote about 160 A.D.
Why did Matthew write this gospel, and what is its message for us today?
This dual question deserves exploration. We believe that God inspired the scriptures, but to better understand Matthewâ€™ purpose and its message for us, we need to search carefully. We really have to read the whole book, and thoughtfully search out its purpose to give an informed answer to the questions. Before we begin, here are some things about Matthewâ€™s gospel that are defining. As I tell you various things about Matthew, ask yourself, how does this help me understand Matthew and how he communicates the gospel of Jesus?
Matthew is next to the longest book in the New Testament. It actually has more chapters than any other New Testament book: 28 to be exact. It is almost twice the length of Mark, but just about a page shorter than Luke, depending on the size print and page of your Bible. Matthew includes about 90% of the content of Markâ€™s gospel, a lot of it word for word, and Matthew has a good portion of material that Luke includes in his gospel that is not in Mark, and also, there is a large amount of information in Matthew that is unique to his gospel.
It has long been observed that Matthew arranges his gospel in five big chunks called the five great sermons or speeches of Jesus:
1. The Sermon on the Mount - chapters 5-7
2. The Missionary Discourse - 10
3. The Parables of the Kingdom - 13
4. The Community Discourse - 18
5. The End Times Discourse - 24-25
Another interesting thing about the arrangement of Matthew is that between each of these speeches or sermons of Jesus there is a narrative section of Jesus miracles and works.
Matthew has exactly 12 "fulfillment citations" which say: "this happened to fulfill what was written by the prophets."
Matthew is the only gospel to specifically mention Jesus talking about the church. In Matthew 16 Jesus speaks of building the church and in Matthew 18 he speaks of taking a matter of one that sins against you to the church as a final act of seeking resolution.
Matthew shows particular interest in Jesusâ€™ relationship with the Old Testament Law. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus declares: Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them! Truly I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or iota will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, I say to you, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthewâ€™s gospel puts more emphasis on the concept of the kingdom than the others. He mentions the term kingdom 55 times in his gospel, preferring the words â€œkingdom of heavenâ€ over â€œkingdom of Godâ€ as the other gospels put it. Probably, this reveals a Jewish influence and Matthewâ€™s respect for the name of God.
Someone wrote: Matthew is the gospel written by a Jew, to Jews about a Jew. Jesus Christ is the subject and Matthewâ€™s design is to present Jesus as the King of the Jews, the long awaited Messiah. His genealogy, his baptism, his messages, his miracles, and especially his death, burial and resurrection all point to the same inescapable conclusion: this Jesus is the King. He died for our sins, and now he lives and reigns as Lord over all.
Thereâ€™s more, lots more, but we need to look at chapter 1 where it all begins.
Matthew opens with Jesusâ€™ genealogy (verses 1-17) to establish the clear blood line connection of Jesus with David and Abraham, Abraham - who received Godâ€™s covenant promise to bless all nations through his seed, and David - who received Godâ€™s covenant promise that one of his descendants would reign forever. This is also our first indicator as to the purpose of the book. Matthew wants to tell us about the faithfulness of God and the fulfillment of Godâ€™s word in Jesus as the Christ.
The three groups of 14 generations are used by Matthew to show the order in which God brings about his promises. Some of you may remember the significance of numbers when we studied the book of Revelation. Some scholars have noted that the letters in the Hebrew name David add up to fourteen and that since the Messiah was to come from Davidâ€™s line that number took on messianic overtones. Matthew shows us that at the end of these three groups of 14 generations each one leads up to a significant moment in Israelâ€™s history, culminating in the coming of Godâ€™s Messiah, Jesus, who is Emanuel, God with us.
Next in verses 18-25 Matthew recounts how Jesus came.
In these verses are three major points: Who Jesus is, what Jesus does, and what are the results.
We are so familiar with it that it doesnâ€™t surprise us, but it should cause us to wonder: that Jesus, the divine Son of God, had a human blood line. It is not at all surprising that any man in history has an ancestry. But this is different. Jesus is not simply human. Jesus is also divine; he is God in the flesh, Emanuel, God with us.
The early church had to answer the question about who Jesus is as the human/divine son of man, son of God. Now, we know that in Catholic circles this has caused Mary to be exalted above human status. That was never intended by God in the scriptures. Mary, while amazingly honored to be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was never in scripture more than a highly honored human Jewish mother. In fact, she became a follower of her Son. Lukeâ€™s gospel gives us Maryâ€™s perspective on Jesusâ€™ birth much more than Matthew. Matthew gives us Josephâ€™s perspective. Matthew is much more masculine oriented than Luke, and visa versa.
But how can God become a man? How did divinity take on flesh? Is Jesus just a man who because of his character and nature came to be called divine? Or is Jesus the eternal divine Word of God who became flesh? This doesnâ€™t surprise us enough today. We move on too quickly to what Jesus did and taught because it seems more important or because we want to hear something that applies more directly to our lives today. But I would argue that this is critical to everything else about Jesus. If Jesus is not God, we are lost in sin and without a Savior powerful enough to rescue us. If Jesus is not human, we are again lost in sin without a sacrifice that can represent us to save us. Jesus has to be both divine and human, fully both, to accomplish the work of salvation. Everything in scripture backs this up. Matthew shows us that Jesus is as human as his mother and as divine as his Father. He must be both to be our Savior.
Imagine a deep divide between two landings. On one side there is a fire that is consuming everything. On the other there is safety and freedom from danger. But between these two is a great gulf that no one can cross without a bridge. Imagine that all of us are on the burning side and are sure to be consumed in the flames unless we can escape to the other shore. So we search for a way across. A bridge that only goes half way is of no help at all. That is not a bridge but an invitation to death.
The world is filled with these half bridges that at first seem to offer a way of life, but actually they are a way of death. We are powerless to save ourselves, powerless and also guilty. We started the fires that burn around us and that consume us. Getting to the other side is our only hope.
Only a bridge that reaches across to both sides and is secure enough to bear our weight can save us.
Jesus is that bridge. He alone reaches both the human and the divine shores and he alone has the strength to bear us across. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by him.
Matthew answers who is Jesus. He is Emanuel, God with us.
What did Jesus do? Matthew says in verse 21 of chapter one, â€œAnd she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.â€
What did Jesus do? He came to save his people from their sins. There are two very important matters that I want us to see here. First, who did Jesus save? Read it again.
He will saveâ€¦ HIS PEOPLE. Now, this defines those who are rescued from the flames of death. This describes who those are that are given eternal life. They are his people.
This raises the questions, who are his people, what are they like, how do they become his people, how do they live? Matthew will tell us! And he can hardly wait! He finishes the sentence by describing what Jesus does to save his people, and this should give us both comfort and direction. Jesus will save his peopleâ€¦ FROM THEIR SINS.
That tells me that his people need saving and that they need to be saved from something, not in something, but from something. That also tells me that his people are sinners and that they do not save themselves for Jesus.
Jesus is the answer to our deepest need. In Matthew Jesus comes to us as Emanuel and the book closes with the promise that Jesus will always be with us.