The Post (Week 14: Matthew 1-14)
One of my favorite verses in Scripture says, “His compassions never fail, they are new every morning. Great is Thy Faithfulness,” Lamentations 3:22-23. I claim this daily because I need grace. I look forward to new beginnings, and here we start over with Matthew 1. I love how Matthews opens. It is not just a lineage. It is a family tree about grace, written by a man who tasted grace first hand. Somehow Matthew, who was an outsider and a disrespected Jewish tax collector, was welcomed to the inside. Matthew was so far inside he was one of the writers of the Bible. Now that is grace.
Our author, Matthew writes very little about himself. Matthew makes sure we understand that Jesus invited him to be his disciple in Matthew 9:9. He was a tax collector (tax collector equals thief to the Biblical culture because they overcharged their own countrymen to earn a living). He would have been a bitterly hated man. As a tax collector, Matthew would have had the gift of precision and attention to detail. Because of this, some scholars think Matthew might have been the original documenter of most of Jesus’ sayings. Look at William Barclay’s commentary on Matthew if you want a detailed account of this hypothesis. Matthew is the only gospel, for example, where an actual sermon by Jesus is written out in its entirety, Matthew 5-7.
Matthew’s book is focused toward the Jewish community. It was written by a Jew to convince the Jews that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. Matthew sets out to demonstrate that all the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in Jesus, and therefore He must be the Messiah. One of the recurring phrases throughout the book is “This was to fulfill what the Lord has spoke by the prophet.”
The book of Matthew is written for easy retention. He arranges things so that they can be easily memorized. Ideas are grouped in 3’s, 7’s and 14’s. For example, there are 3 messages to Joseph and 3 denials of Peter. There are 7 parables of the kingdom in chapter 13 and 7 woes to the Scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23. There are 3 sections of 14 generations in the first chapter, the before-mentioned family tree. Let’s look at this tree for a moment. It is organized in 3 sections based on 3 stages of Jewish history. The first section covers the covenant’s beginnings with Abraham to Israel’s greatest King David who made the Israel a world power. The second section goes thru the exile to Babylon, which tells of the nation’s shame and disaster. The third section ends with the ultimate King, who turns tragedy to triumph with his death and resurrection. If you look at the 3 sweeping movements of this genealogy it echoes the whole of Scripture. There is a beautiful creation, a tragic fall and God’s interceding redemption and ultimate restoration. Now let’s look closer at the names in the genealogy. There are 4 women in the list which traditionally was exclusive to men. Ironically there are 3 Gentiles listed. The Jews regarded purity of race as the supreme. As we examine the lives of the recognizable names, we see many broken people. There is Judah, who in his sin produced his heir, Perez, in Genesis 38. The lineage includes a prostitute redeemed named Rahab in Joshua 2, and it includes an adulterer named David who murdered his mistress’ husband in 2 Samuel 11. I am glad we started this entry with remembering grace, because we are knee deep in the grace of God now! It is amazing how God crossed racial and cultural lines to bring the Messiah into the world.
Tips for Reading (Interpretation tip)
(Note: This section is help for Bible Reading in general. It has been building throughout the year under the topics of Observation (what the Scripture says), Interpretation (what it means) and Application (what it means to your life). Feel free to look back over past weeks to get the whole picture.
I recently watched the movie Be Kind, Rewind (very funny by the way) and the one thing that jumped out at me was its creativity. The writers basically retold 10-15 classic movies in their own way. It had me thinking that if we approached the Bible in the same way the stories would jump off the page. For example, as you read thru Matthew 1, try to picture the stories from the Old Testament if you know them or look them up. What did Rahab feel as she was being rescued from Jericho? Can you see the story? Can you picture Rahab watching the walls of her city fall? Let’s rewind Matthew 3, what was it like to listen to John the Baptist speak? What are your feelings as you hear his words? This week let’s look at the Bible accounts through as many lenses as we can. Let’s get creative and read the chapters in different translations and notice the nuances. Try reading the chapter aloud to yourself or someone else. For example, Matthew 5-7 is a sermon. It is called the Sermon on the Mount. It shouldn’t be divided into chapters. Those divisions came much later than the original text. So give the sermon. What jumps out as you hear it? I was at a conference and the speaker simply read thru the Sermon on the Mount and sat down afterwards. It was very moving. Or here’s one more idea that might be a real challenge- write a paraphrase of a story from your reading this week. Write it down in your own words. Then you can really see what you notice and understand and what you do not..
Notes from David's Journal
As you read through the Gospel of Matthew, remember Matthew wrote it with a Jewish audience in mind. Note all the Old Testament Scriptures used by Matthew to support his views. This is very intentional. He is trying to reach a Jewish audience and show them that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the prophecies in their sacred documents.
However, especially note that in this section of Matthew you will find the beloved Sermon on the Mount. As you read it through in Matthew 5-7, please note how Jesus contrasts His message of grace to the Law. "You have heard it said of old," Jesus said, and then would quote one of the Ten Commandments. Then also note what follows, "But I say to you..."Note how Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of all Old Testament Law. Note His obvious claim to deity: His perspective supersedes Old Testament Law. Note His use of "I", claiming a Godly power to reinterpret the Law! And when He did so, it would always usher in a grace message: "You have heard it said of old, don't murder but I say to you murder begins in the heart, with anger. That's what needs to be controlled for murder to cease!" (my paraphrase). What can control all the heart's emotions? Grace. It is the most powerful force in the world. When you love God because of His loving us first, we want to please Him above all else, thus controlling lust, anger, retaliation, bitterness with His amazing grace. Grace is the answer to all life's issues.
Let me encourage you all to spend some time thinking about Matthew 13. In this section of God's Word, Matthew tells several of Jesus' parables. The one that most causes me pause is the parable of the wheat and the tares. In it, Jesus clearly states that the evil one is going to sow tares among the wheat in the kingdom of God (the church). These tares, or weeds, look like wheat in so many different ways except one: they cannot produce fruit. Jesus says they will exist alongside wheat until the day He returns and separates the two. As you read this parable, ponder these truths:
-there will be people in the church who will call themselves Christians but are not. They have been placed there by the evil one to cause confusion in the kingdom of God.
-faithful followers of Jesus are not to judge who is a real believer or not. That is the Lord's job alone at the time of the Judgement.
-however, we can look at their fruit and begin to draw some conclusions about them. Again, we are not to judge, but we can be fruit inspectors (reread Matthew 7 for this same message from Jesus).
-finally, doesn't this parable give us great insights into atrocities throughout the ages by supposed "Christians" that are so far from the spirit and character of Christ (the Inquisition, the Crusades, the way some native Americans were treated, etc)? Jesus warned us it would happen.
Bottom line: if we call ourselves followers of Jesus there will be manifested "fruit" in our lives: the fruit of character that is Christlike. The fruit of serving the poor and needy. The fruit of other people coming to faith in Christ because of us.
Let's make sure if we call ourselves Christ-followers we bear fruit for Him! Never let anyone say we are really more resembling a "tare," a weed for Jesus! How incomparably unimaginable!
May the grave of God be yours today.