Matthew Introduction Part 1

The apostle Peter said, at the end of his second letter, “Grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Earlier in that same letter he said that we are to add knowledge to our faith, along with piety and self-control and love and affection for the brothers.

Knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul said that he was constrained to know nothing other than Christ - crucified and resurrected.  Why did he say that?  Because IN HIM is summed up all things.  He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Freedom to know and to live in IN HIM.  To know Him and to love Him is all that there is.  Because true knowledge of all things is defined in the knowledge of Him.  One knows not unless he knows Christ.

In addition to that, the apostle Paul, at the end of his first letter to the Church at Corinth, said that the man who does not love Jesus Christ - let him be anathema.  Accursed!

We must know Him.  And we must love Him.

And the Lord Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My Commandments.”  We must know Him.  And we must love Him.  And we must obey Him.

Today we begin, together, a very sacred work, the Gospel of Yahveh.  Yeshua.  Jesus.  The One without Whom nothing was made that was made.  The One Whose Name is above every Name.  God.  Became man.  Born of a virgin.  The God-man.  God the son - emptied Himself.  Emanuel - God with us.

This reverent work we are about to do is through the awesome events that took place in history.  When God took the flesh of man and lived among us.  And Who suffered the pain of rejection (God was rejected by men), physical torture and death; Who arose from the grave and ascended into heaven.

If we take nothing more with us today, be sure that it is the sense of approaching a most sacred thing - the Gospel.  Here it is the Gospel according to Matthew - the Good News, the Glad Tidings, for God came to die in order that man might have life.  And the man, Matthew, the ex-tax collector, a Roman collaborator, wrote it down - as tradition says, about eight or nine years after the resurrection and ascension.

Of this man we know very little, except that he collected tolls for the Roman government.  As one of the chosen, he was with Jesus from the very beginning of His ministry, and he was there when Jesus ascended into Heaven after the resurrection.  It is said that he stayed in Jerusalem and preached the Gospel for about fifteen years after the Lord was taken up into Heaven, because Jesus had commanded them to begin there.

Other traditions have him in different places of the inhabited world after that, evangelizing the Gentile nations.  Of this period we have no historical proof, but tradition has it that he died an older man - of natural causes.  (If it’s possible to speak of death as a result of natural causes.)

But it is enough to know that our Lord chose him and commanded him to follow.  And he did.  And he became the writer of the first canonical Gospel.

Now, without being too detailed and too laborious about it, I want you to know some of the characteristics, the distinguishing characteristics, of this Gospel of Matthew.  As you know, we must know what the author is attempting to do as one step toward our own understanding.  And, then, after that, we must, as best we can, try to grasp the essence of the times.  Because the context of any writing is a most critical issue.

And this isn’t just any book.  This is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  And to preach through the book without an understanding of the context is a sin which no minister can justify.  That kind of activity only leads to flat, one dimensional, moralizing, application type preaching.  And our Lord Jesus Christ can only be known as a mythical identity if He is not known as the Son of God - the Word Who was made flesh and dwelt among us.  We must know Him.  And love Him.  And obey Him.

We must know Him - that He might live in us and we in Him through faith.  And that we might pattern our lives after His.  And suffer in Him and with Him.  And that we might lay ourselves upon Him as a thank offering to God the Father.  And that we might drink His blood and eat His body.  That we might deny self and follow Him.

Loving Him because He first loved us - and died for us that we might have His life and His virtues.  And that we might obey His Word as He obeyed.

For these reasons we can’t read consecutive portions of this book every week - then build illustrations to exhibit a particular moral of the story - and expect men and women and children to come to know the One Who created the heavens and the earth and then died for it to save it from sin and destruction.  And, people, we must not know about Him or of Him - as if He never lived in time and history - we must know Him.  The One Who was sent at the appointed time - in the fullness of time.  The particular time God appointed for Him to come. And we must know that time.

But before we set the context for the birth of Jesus Christ, we ought to know some things about the gospel of Matthew itself.  We must know the author’s perspective.  You realize that the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of four Gospels.  Two by the apostles Matthew and John, and two by the disciples Mark and Luke.

And it’s very important to understand that when the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Gospel of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ, He did so through four different men! Four men whose perspectives were different - four men whose intent was different; four men whose objectives were different; and four men whose personalities and characteristics were different.  The Spirit of God never dictated the words mechanically, but the words were God-breathed through individuals who were filled with the Spirit for that purpose.

Up until the time of its writing, the Gospel was preached.  And since this preached Gospel was inspired to inscription, the Church of all times has recognized that four accounts were given to the Church by the Holy spirit Himself.  And all four of the accounts are true in their very words.  But they’re all different.

John’s Gospel is the intellectual Gospel.  It concentrates on the transcendent and imminent glory of the Lord Jesus Christ - the God-man.  Mark, whose Gospel is little more than half the size of the other three, races through historical events to get to the crucifixion and resurrection more quickly.  

Dr. Luke was the historian.  He took time to detail some very important things in order to substantiate the history for the Church.

And Matthew’s intent was to testify to the Jews, that Jesus Christ is the Messiah Who was promised by the Old Testament prophets.

But let me say this first, before we look at the book in general.  The Gospel records are not biographies.  These are not biographies of the life of Christ.  The gospels are just that.  Gospels.  They are the preaching the Good News of God.  Kerygma.  The Message from God to a lost world.  The gospel is the Power of God unto salvation, and it has been written down, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, four times.

The gospel is not a chronicle of the life of Jesus Christ.  The Kerygma of God is not a set of facts.  Nor have the writers written things necessarily in the order in which they happened.  There are events in the life of Jesus, some of His deeds and miracles, and a few instances of His teaching.  But the death and resurrection are the dominant interests.  The “kernel,” you might say, or the center core of the Good News from God, is that the Son of God died for the sins of His people and rose again that they might have life.  All the other things are His Good News too.   And they are all essential.  But, as the apostle Paul implied later in one of his letters, once he knew the crucified and resurrected Lord, he knew all things truly.

But the Kerygma, the preaching of the Gospel, was set to writing by the apostle Matthew, in his own words, through his own perspective, at the leading of the Spirit of God.  The book was written by a Jew, in the international language of the day - Greek.  Clearly, Matthew was writing pointedly at the nation of Jews, as is evidenced by the genealogy and by his desire that the Jews see that Jesus Christ is the fullness of all the Older Testament prophecies.  But, at the same time, Matthew never gives the impression that it was only for the Jews.  It's clear that he has the whole Church in mind, as he refers many times to the Church (Greek word) with relation to the Gentiles and the nations.  And the discourses of Christ that he has chosen to use include last days type terminology in the parables and narratives - the "last days" having to do with the destruction of Israel and the old Covenant.

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of this book has to do with the order with which it's written.  This is a book which comes directly from a Jewish mind; because the thought process is conceptual rather than being written in an historical continuum.  As I said before, this is not a chronological story.  It is not written as history in a straight line.  The Hebrew mind didn't think in those terms, but in terms of completion and incompletion - of perfected and imperfected.

A good example of that is that some of the prophecies written 750 years before they actually came to pass were actually written in a perfected tense, indicating that they were already a reality - which they were. Even though they would not occur in history for centuries.

And when we come to the genealogy of Christ, we'll see the same kind of conceptualization of history in the writing of Matthew.  And the same is true of the grouping of events.  Matthew's order, as I said before, isn't based, necessarily on chronology, but to verify - in a perfected sense.

Let me give you some examples of that:  Chapters 5-7 is an example of Jesus' teaching.  Chapter thirteen relates various controversies with the Pharisees.  Chapter thirteen relates a number of parables.  And things are grouped, on many occasions, in threes.  Three parables, three sayings, three events, three instances, three prayers, three denials, three healings.

And this grouping of threes is not in sequence of Jesus' life necessarily, because chronology isn't the issue.  This is an effort to write the main facets of Jesus' life - to verify His Messiahship (Old Testament prophecy).  Written in threes because three is the number of perfection - or surety; and because Moses said that a thing is verified by two or three witnesses.  Matthew was authenticating the Messiahship of God's Anointed One, and authenticating the material he incorporated.   So, if a biography of the chronological life of Jesus had been the goal and intent of the writer, it would have been acrupulously written that way.  But it wasn't.  And we must intentionally wipe our minds clean of the temptation to read it that way.

And while I'm at this point, considering how we must read and know this book, let me just reiterate how we must view the Words of the book.  Not only must we pay close attention to history and context and form and intent - but we must also pay close attention to the very words themselves.

Heretical views of Holy Scripture prevail in the Church today, and they prevail at least to some degree because it is said, by theologians and pastors and teachers, that the Scriptures, as given by God, can't effectively communicate to modern men.  This view has led to a proliferation of "modern day" translations of Scripture - all of which espouse a "dynamic equivalent" which they say is easier to understand.  And they all, almost without exception, reduce the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ and the work He accomplished for His Father.  There is even one translation being prepared today by the National Council of Churches which will filter the Bible through the mind of the women's liberation movement - even though we lose our Heavenly Father and our Savior and Brother Jesus Christ in the process.

It isn't inconceivable that, sometime in the future, that the Bible will be re-translated in order to communicate more effectively with Marxists, homosexuals, atheists and liberationists.

But, in preaching through Matthew we will not seek dynamic equivalents.  We will deal with the Words of Scripture.  It is a spiritual issue and not one of communications.  As the Prophet Isaiah wrote the words of God:  "...but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word."

There's a second point I want to mention in this regard too.  Those who harbor this "dynamic equivalent" view of the Words of Scripture fit right in with those who use an allegorical method of interpreting the Bible.  In this allegorical method, it doesn't much matter about the history and the context. The interpreter seeks an "eternal truth" from a text and preaches or teaches the eternal truth, no matter what the context is, and no matter what the words say.

A good example of that is a passage recorded by Matthew when a Canaanite woman approached Jesus and begged for mercy for her daughter.  And Jesus said "is it proper to give the children's food to dogs?"  Well, the woman wasn't offended at that, and she begged Him even more, saying "don't the dogs eat the crumbs off the table?"  Commending her faith, Jesus healed her daughter.  Well, the allegorical interpreter would probably build a three-point sermon on persistence.  All people are worthy, and if you're persistent, you'll be rewarded.

Another example from Matthew might be the passage where Jesus looked upon the multitude and had compassion on them.  And from this portion of Scripture, the modern allegorical interpreter would prepare a sermon on compassion for the less fortunate in our society.

This is what I meant earlier when I mentioned flat, one-dimensional interpretation.  No history, no context, and no one deals with the words in the text.  And no one trembles at the Word of God.  Both of the passages mentioned are deep in their contexts, and rooted in history and deep in theology.  But no one will meet Christ Jesus through this kind of moralizing speeches.  From Matthew we will preach the Words of God and we will seek to know our Lord Jesus Christ.  No dynamic equivalents; and no allegorical interpretation.  And the only two choices in response to it will be denial or obedience.  (People don't have to deal with the Word of God in allegorical moralizing speeches.)

Now, as you might imagine, nearly every major topic having to do with the Christian faith will be more or less covered while preaching through this book.  And in pondering the distinguishing characteristics of the book, in getting ready to prepare you for it, I was struck by, not only the order with which this man has written the Gospel, but by the great numbers of things which are emphasized.  And that has made it difficult for me to choose ONE topic which is pre-eminent.

But there is one.  And ultimately there could be no other; for this is the Gospel.  The Gospel of the Anointed One of God - and His Kingdom.

Psalm two says that the nations set themselves against God's Anointed One, but God laughed at them; for the decree went out - "yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion."  And in the fullness of time, John the Baptizer came preaching "the Kingdom is at hand."  And then the Lord Jesus Christ, the Anointed One of God came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom.

Blessed are the poor in spirit and the meek and the ones who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  When you pray, pray thusly:  Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.  Whosoever does these Commandments and teaches the little ones to do them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Except your righteousness exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees you shall in no wise enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

These are examples of the teaching of Jesus concerning the Kingdom, and this is just chapter five.  Jesus preached the Gospel of the Kingdom constantly, and Matthew recorded fifty-five occasions.  We must know Christ and His Kingdom.

"I saw One like the Son of man come with the clouds of Heaven, and came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him.  And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a Kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His Kingdom is one which shall not be destroyed." (Dan. Chapter seven)  "and of the increase of the government there shall be no end….to establish His Kingdom."

We will look toward another introductory sermon next Lord's Day, when we will set the context for the writing of the Gospel.  But let me say, as an appropriate ending this morning - "seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." (Matthew )