This post begins a series on the Gospels. Each Monday in June we will look at how one of the Gospels opens, in July what happens in the middle of each one, and finally how they each conclude.
The Gospel is a good story and every good story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In considering this story it is not my intention to summarize the things Jesus did but to consider who Jesus was.
“What sort of man is this?” the disciples wonder ((Matthew 8:27).
And from the beginning, He is King.
On Matthew 1-7
For modern readers, Matthew begins with a slog through a genealogy that covers 42 names we can’t pronounce. But it would have been much more engaging for his Hebrews readers, for whom these names were as familiar as the faces on our currency.
These are the founding fathers of Israel, and Matthew wants his readers to know immediately that he is talking about someone very important. A king’s son, no less. A prince of Israel.
But once you get past the names, it quickly becomes clear that this is to be no ordinary king. And this is no ordinary kingdom. Within a few pages, its majesty unfolds with angelic appearances, chosen women, palace intrigue, the slaughter of innocents, temptations, a prophet crying in the wilderness, a voice from heaven—a new order is being established. And it has new rules. There are all the elements of a fantasy novel—except every word is true.
“Repent,“ Jesus says. “For the kingdom of heaven is at hand (4:17).” But turning from our way to His way will not be easy, because the standards are higher, the risks are greater, and the rewards less temporal. There is a narrow gate (6:13) and the axe is laid to the root of our unrighteousness (3:10). In the Beatitudes, the first of several sermons that Matthew records, Jesus turns everything on its head—our understanding of charity, adultery, divorce, prayer, promises, forgiveness—the list goes on. You should read it yourself.
“You have heard,…But I say…. (5:27-48)” He announces several times that they had not understood the heart of the Law, which He will fully keep. And any honest reader will admit that we have also misunderstood. The new way is higher and harder. What He wants to do is to change us from the inside out, so that our celebrities become the meek, the merciful, and the peacemaker. This is the way things should be and will be, in His kingdom. And to those He calls, He says: “follow me (4:19).”
But this is not our story. And the Gospel of Matthew is not primarily about our following Him, although we must. It is about His Kingship and His authority. It is about who He is and why He must be followed. “He teaches as one having authority (7:28),” His listeners say. And by that same authority, this gracious and compassionate King casts out demons and heals the sick and raises the dead and feeds the hungry.
How we respond to that authority is the first question of the Gospel. Will we yield? Will we follow the new rules? Will we bow? Very early in Matthew, John the Baptist, who Jesus later describes as the greatest of those born of women (11:11), says I am not worthy to carry his sandals (3:11). Neither are you. He is a new and greater King.
Get this right, and the Gospels become very clear.
Take the challenge: Did you know if you read 5 or 6 chapters a day, only four days a week, you can read through all four Gospels in a month? Make a comment, or send me a message on Twitter or Facebook, if you will try to read the Gospels this summer. #gospelchallenge