Matthew Introduction Part 3 - Ezekiel 16

This is the third – and final - introductory sermon to the Gospel of Matthew.  So far we have taken a brief look at the Gospel itself and its primary focus; and reviewed the 650 years of history from the Babylonian captivity to the destruction of Israel in 70 AD.

Now, I know that an overview of the entire Gospel of Matthew in thirty minutes, or a survey of 650 years of history in the same amount of time, isn’t comprehensive by any stretch of the imagination.  But the intent, or purpose, isn’t to write a history book or to do a series of lectures.  Our purpose, as everyone knows, is to honor and glorify God at worship, a prominent part of which is the preaching and hearing of His Words.  And although these introductions to the Gospel are not comprehensive, they are critical to the preaching of the Gospel.  And I say that because no portion of the Scripture can be dealt with properly unless the context is known.  The writer and his intent – the historical context – the language context – the social context – and the Theological context.

We have to know that this particular Gospel focuses on Jesus Christ as King as prophesied.  And that He came to save the world and establish His Kingdom as prophesied.  And that He scattered and crushed all other Kingdoms of the world, but His Kingdom is eternal.  His rule shall be world-wide and it shall last forever, as the prophecy of Daniel says.

And we have to know the physical and political situation in which He came – which we covered last week.  And we also have to know the ethical, moral and theological atmosphere in which He was born, which is the subject to be covered this morning.  How else can we interpret what He said?  And preach it?  The fresh literal translation in your bulletins this morning is for you to read this week in preparation for our beginning to deal with the words of God next Lord’s Day.  I don’t think we will spend more than one week in the genealogy of Christ, although there are some interesting and exciting things in there.  Please consider the fact that none of the Words in the text of Scripture are boring.  There are reasons for why there’re there.  And they are God’s reasons.  And who are we to say they are boring?

It might be interesting for you to know that it was while I was studying genealogy that the irresistible craving for study and ministry was made evident to me by the Spirit of Christ.  And it was at that point that I began moving, at age thirty-five, towards a seminary education.

So the Spirit works through the Word to move men – yea, drive men to do the will of our Heavenly Father.  And no portion of Scripture is lacking in value toward that end.  The Word that goes out from God will not return empty.

But that is next Lord’s Day.  This morning we have to look at the spiritual condition of Israel at the time of Christ, and the shaping of that condition, world-wide, leading up to the “appointed time.”  The apostle John, at the beginning of his Gospel, said that in Christ was life.  And the life was the light of men, but the darkness did not comprehend the Light.

The whole world was darkness – including Israel – at the birth of Jesus.  That darkness terminology is used quite often to describe the entire Gentile world before Christ.  Other terminology – symbolic in nature – is used quite often, too.  Such as wilderness and desert, with its inhabitants being flesh-eating birds.

But the nation of Israel, with its central city of Jerusalem and the temple, was to be the light of the world, displaying the glory of God at Mount Zion.  But at the time of Christ God called it the whore of Babylon.

Babylon – with its pantheon of deities and man-centered mysticism – had a whore.  And it was Jerusalem, the capitol of the nation which God had symbolized in our Ezekiel passage as His Own wife.  He had sheltered her and protected her in her birth, and had raised her to be His Own, and now she was the whore of an idolatrous, pagan entity.

And even before the massive deportation of Israel into Babylon – in 586 BC – Ezekiel said that Jerusalem had spread her legs to everyone, and had paid them to come in to her.  So the moral condition of God’s people was deplorable even before their exile into the darkness and wilderness of pagan captivity and enslavement.

And the consequence of this going astray into idolatry was, that everyone who found them, devoured them.  And, while doing so, cherished the thought that they were not incurring any guilt.  Because Israel had been given up to their enemies on account of their apostasy from God.  But the fact was, that every offence against Israel, as the holy people of the Lord, brought on guilt.

That is not true since 70 AD when God removed national Israel from His covenant blessings.  Since then, violence extended toward the Body-of-Christ – the Church – imputes guilt and incurs the wrath of God.

But since that time, 586 BC, the Jews have been plundered and slaughtered again and again – and they still have not repented.  And they have terrorized and murdered each other, even within families.  And it is all because of their idolatry and the fact that they will not repent.

But one day they will.  And they’ll be grafted back into their own covenant stalk, and fellowship in the body of Christ with us Gentiles who are not natural sons.

And even though the people of God had forgotten the Covenant of God and had fallen into this wretched and malignant moral state before their exile, the worst was yet to come.  For fifty years of Babylonian captivity they suffered under a completely blind and pagan world order – one which worshipped many mystical gods, developed astrology, built gold and other graven images, developed a highly complex system of witchcraft and magic and sought to exploit everything physical to the limit.

And the Jews were captives to that world order, without temple worship, without prophets (except Daniel), and without the Law.  Fifty years under Babylonian rule and then twenty years under the Medo-Persian empire.  An entire generation and a part of another knew nothing else other than living in slavery to pagan kings in a foreign country who knew nothing other than the mystical occult.

And when it was time to go home many wouldn’t even leave.  It was their home.  They had intermarried, received the pagan gods, become mystics.

They became dispersed into all the nations of the east – the Jews of the Diaspora (dispersion, scattering).

But many did go home.  The walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt and the temple restored.  But the nation lived under the rulership of the great Persian empire for another hundred and fifty years. 

Now, I don’t mean to pass over that period of time lightly.  There were terrible struggles and the awful consequences of idolatry and lust.  But we must get to the next great event.  Because it is probably true that no occurrence in the history of the Gentile nations before Christ so changed the culture of the dark world as did the Hellenization of society begun by Alexander the Great.  Of course Greek culture began long before that, but it was not exported to such a degree and it was not centralized under the power of a world emperor until Alexander took it upon himself to subdue the earth.

Certainly the initial dominion was due to military might.  And Alexander was ferocious in his prosecution of war against anyone who sought to defy him or remain independent.  But his driving motivation was that, in order for there to be one world emperor, there had to be one world culture and society.  And Greek culture, one which more modern historians call “Hellenism,” was in his opinion far superior to any other on earth.

So, in order to Hellenize the world, Alexander built new cities in every province.  From Europe to Africa to Asia to the Indian sub-continent, great cities were erected, and philosophers and teachers and artists and sports figures were imported to each one in order to form the core of the population.

Great universities and libraries were established which were the centers of study for Greek philosophy, logic, rhetoric, sociology, arts and sciences.  Greek became the world language for business and scholarship.  The Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek.

Alexandria, Egypt named after Alexander the Great, became the center of the Greek empire – not Athens.  Hellenized Jews dispersed to every part of the world – not only participating in scholarly functions, but also accepting the mythology and the humanism, and the lusty lifestyle.  There were very few restrictive attitudes on sexuality in Greek culture, since the primary focus was on human reason and physical ability.

As one great observer of history once said, “in the Scriptures, the knowledge of God is the highest knowledge.”  To the Hellenist, it is the knowledge of the universe – nature.  In the Scriptures, virtue meant righteousness.  To the Hellenist it was physical excellence.  In the Scriptures, virtue is beautiful.  To the Hellenist, beauty is virtue.

And one could go on forever, almost, and never get to the end of the Greek contradictions to God’s Truth.  But the point of this all is this:  Alexander’s intent was to cause the world to go through a thorough transformation – a metamorphosis if you will – in culture and society, and therefore, he usurped the position of, and the very requirements of, the King of Kings, and prophesied by Scripture.

God decreed that His Son was King, in Psalm two.  And He was raised the Son of God With Power.  And He ascended to the right Hand of Power where He now reigns as King.  The Rock that was carved without hands, from the mountain, shattered and scattered the Kingdoms of the world, and Christ reigns upon His Throne without competition.  And by the preaching of the Gospel, and through faith and repentance, our Lord is subduing the nations.  And not only in the hearts of men, but in their families and institutions, in their businesses, and in politics and economics, and in the arts and sciences.  You see, Christ shall have dominion.  And that means dominion over society and culture.  The nations will not continue to be conformed to the world order, but will be transformed by the renewing of their minds.

Alexander’s idea of transforming society under one king was a borrowed idea.  There was only one problem – be wanted to be the king, rather than Christ Jesus.  Alexander was a bad guy, but he does give us some distorted example of what is required of the people and the nations as we are submitted to Christ’s government – as Isaiah said, Whose government the increase of which there shall be no end.  And our submission must be to a specific and particular world and life view.  And that view belongs to the King.  The culture must be Christian. 

Many say that the Church has to fit into a culture and society.  Not so.  Culture and society must be transformed to fit the word of the King.  Nicaraguan society – Laotian society – Japanese society – American society – Israeli society.  In addition to that, there is no such thing as fitting the Church into black culture, youth culture or charismatic culture.  Or any other human culture or fad culture that might arise.  Culture and society is to submit to the Words of the King!

Many of the Jews did incorporate Greek culture into their own religion (synthesis) and, therefore, apostatized from the faith.

And they did so again, after Pompeii marched through Israel into Jerusalem in 63 BC.  Jerusalem spread its legs again to receive all the idolatry and lasciviousness that the Roman society had to offer.  The priesthood became a political office of aristocracy – to be bought and sold, or to kill for, or to receive a favor from Rome.  A pagan descendant of Esau – Herod the Great – was made king over the ten remaining tribes of God’s people – a gift of favor from Marc Anthony.  And when Herod the great died, Augustus Caesar gifted Herod’s three sons to be rulers severally over the nation.

The temple became a place for international trade and unjust monetary exchange between nations.  Murder, terror and political intrigue – living on the very edge of chaos and destruction – sexual perversity – hypocrisy – Satanic occultism – idolatry of every kind.

Before our Lord reached the age of one, his father took flight to Egypt to save Him from the annihilation of every male child in Israel under the age of two.  And while they were in Egypt, a horde of Parthians from the Fareast decided they’d try to terminate Roman rule, and they invaded Israel, plundering the nation, tearing down the walls of Jerusalem, killing thousands.  They were quickly defeated by Roman armies, but this is another example of God’s wrath as this people was just wracked by war and savagery.  What a place for the Lord of Hosts to be born into.

I mentioned earlier that there was an internal aristocracy in Israel at the time of Christ.  This was a party that had its beginnings during Greek/Hellenic rule over the world.  And they had vigorously opposed being incorporated into Greek culture, wanting to remain separated and retain a distinctive Hebrew culture.  And they attained and held a very interesting relationship with the Jewish people.  And an understanding of them is vital to the interpretation of the Lord’s Words as recorded by the apostle Matthew.  So this is very important for you to hear.

This group, called Pharisees, or separatists, is usually condemned by modern evangelicals because they thing they believed in keeping the Law.  And evangelicals believe that Jesus fulfilled the Law, thereby making it obsolete.  And That is why Jesus condemned the Pharisees with such vicious language as “sons of the devil, and whitewashed tombs.”

But that is a total disregard for the historical facts.

Modern preachers also pass right over the Sadducees because they did not believe in a life hereafter.  But to understand the words of Jesus we have to have at least a basic working knowledge of the context.

When Israel lost its national independence, and then when it began to be ethnically incorporated into a Hellenistic culture, these two basic philosophies began to be vigorously expressed, time after time splintering Judaism into many warring factions.  The Sadducees, of the priestly family of Zadok, held strongly to the idea of the Jewish state.  The state of Israel had to exist, here and now, and religion and nationality was to serve that end.  A hereafter was unimportant – the Jewish state was forever.

These were the aristocratic priests with some land and wealth who were members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling internal body in Jerusalem, and who overtaxed the common people and took their land.  They were zealous opponents of foreign rule, and they exercised every option to see that the Jewish state continued to exist.  Ethnic purity was not that much of an issue to them, since they had adopted Hellenist ideas of state superiority. 

On the other hand, the separatists – Pharisees – were the intellectuals of the middle class, some of whom were also members of the Sanhedrin at the time of Christ – including Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul.

The Pharisees had no use for the state, and, in fact, hated the state.  Their interest was ethnic purity.  The Hebrew people – the tribes of Israel – had to remain separate from the world, remain pure in their blood lines because of the covenant, and adhere strictly to God’s Law.

One’s descendancy was of utmost importance, for how could they be a separate and distinct light unto the world unless they were separated from the world in blood-line and character.  It did not much matter whether Israel was ruled from Athens or Alexandria or Antioch or Rome.  As long as the ancient culture of ethnic Israel was left alone.  But, of course, that was not going to happen.  As the mixing of cultures continued – with the Sadducean group helping that to happen – the Pharisees expanded the Law of God with oral teaching in order to keep Israel pure.  And the oral teaching became the Law instead of the Words of God.  And they wielded great power over the middle class of Israel, keeping them in check with their own law-word.  And no longer did the Law of God and the words of the prophets foreshadow the coming of the Messiah, Who was the fullness of the Law and the prophets.

And the adherence to a terribly distorted, Pharisaical law-word to keep the people in check and to keep Israel completely separated from the pagan world was the complete opposite of the intent of God’s Law-word.  So the hearts of the Pharisees opposed God and His only Son.

So the Pharisees and their scribes, and the Sadducees, and the high priest of Israel, and the Roman government and the descendants of Esau, and the Jewish converts from every nation, were all gathered together and set themselves against Yahveh and against His Anointed.  But Yahveh laughed and had them in derision.  “Yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.  You, My Son.  This day have I begotten You.  Ask of Me and I shall give the heathen for Thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession.”     

“He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.  They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before Him; and His enemies shall lick the dust….Yea all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him.”

He is called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace.  And of the increase of His government there shall be no end.

The Lord of Lords and King of Kings is Royal High Priest over all creation for the glory of God the Father.  So turn Jerusalem.  Turn, youth culture.  Repent and faith in the Name of Jesus Christ and you shall be saved – and your house.