Read the scripture for this lesson: Matthew 1-5
INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW
Matthew was the favorite Gospel of early catholic Christianity. It was always placed first in early manuscripts and it was the most quoted by the Church Fathers. Jesus is portrayed as the Messianic King, Son of David and Son of God. Because of this focus, we do not see a lowly stable or shepherds, but wise men bringing kingly gifts.
In Matthew the conflict between worldly powers– Rome and Jewish leaders—and the ways of Christ the king is highlighted. As you read, look for ways Jesus is guiding us to live godly lives in a sinful world.
Jesus as Messianic King 1:1-25
The opening genealogy is meant to set the story of Jesus into the context of the ongoing story of God’s acts in history that will eventuate in the coming of God’s kingdom, and the one who is God with us. God’s purposes for the world are displayed in God’s covenant relationship with Israel, and those purposes continue through Israel and Jesus, not Rome.
The Messiah does not just wander onto the stage of history as a newcomer to the drama, but in continuity with God’s saving history in the past. Matthew arranged the genealogy to show the movement that began with Abraham, moved to David at the apex, then down to apparent defeat in the dissolution of David’s kingdom; but then, in a surprising reversal, up again to Jesus Christ, the greater “Son of David” Despite Israel’s sin in breaking the covenant, God held fast to the divine promises and directed history toward its fulfillment in Christ.
As we consider the opening scene of Matthew’s story, we may be struck by the similarity between Joseph’s quandary and our own. We want to “do the right thing” and we believe that somehow it is revealed in the Bible. Sometimes we sense that the “Christian thing to do” does not follow the letter of the Bible. Matthew is writing to such Christians. As Jewish Christians who had always reverenced the Law, they found themselves torn between strict adherence to the letter of the Torah and the supreme demand of love to which their new faith called them. Matthew wants his readers to be righteous in a way that respects both the Law of the Bible and the Christian orientation to love, even if it seems to violate the law
Conflict with the Kingdom of this age 2:1-23
The birth of Jesus, God’s agent, into the sinful imperial world brings two responses. The powerful center rejects him. The empire strikes back as Herod tries to murder King Jesus. But the magi, who tradition tells us destabilized power with threatening predictions based on signs and astrology, worshiped Jesus.
Verses 13-23 is a story of a miracle, of divine intervention in the normal course of events. It raises an ethical question: was is right to save one child and allow the rest to be murdered because of that one? Should Mary and Joseph have warned the others?
Jesus and John the Baptist 3:1-4:17
As this section opens, John is preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” John remains the major speaker through Jesus’ baptism. The baptism is a sign of Jesus’ faithfulness to accomplish God’s purposes and commission. Once baptized, Jesus becomes the focus of attention. The tempter tests Jesus’ faithfulness to God. Then John is arrested, and Jesus takes up the call to repentance.
Verse 3:17 reflects the first Servant Song of Isaiah 42:1. Matthew will cite the entire song in chapter 12. Jesus’ obedience, which leads to his self-giving on the cross is already apparent at his baptism. Christian baptism is also a matter of obedience, but as children of God we must remain obedient—as did Jesus–throughout our lives.
As we read of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, how do we feel about the depiction of Satan? How should we interpret this encounter? We can see Jesus as a model for resisting temptation. He quotes Scripture, refuses to use his power selfishly, and prefers the Word of God to material things. More deeply, we can understand the story as an expression of how Christians should think of Jesus as the Son of God. He stands firm. He rejects performing miracles simply for his own glorification. He is obedient to his Father,
Jesus’ ministry begins 4:18-7:28
Jesus begins his ministry by assembling disciples. Fishermen were despised in the social order of the time, but God’s empire welcomes them with a new focus—fishers of people. The story models Jesus’ call, their instant response, and the communal nature of discipleship as a new household based not on genes but on doing God’s will. In his call the disciples encounter God’s rule, presence, and salvation. In this text Jesus appears disruptively in our midst and calls us, not to admire him or accept his principles, but to follow him.
The remainder of chapter 4 chronicles Jesus’ growing recognition as he preached the good news of the kingdom and healed the sick. Matthew is full of sick people, despite Roman claims to have blessed the world with good health. The elite supported itself on the backs of the poor. Hunger, malnutrition poor hygiene, hard work, and anxiety created poor health. In healing, Jesus counters the sinful effects of the imperial system, and anticipates the promised time when God’s empire ensures blessings of plenty and health for all.
Chapter 5 begins Matthew’s rendition of Jesus’ first great discourse: the Sermon on the Mount. It starts with 9 blessings through verse 16. The beatitudes are addressed to the whole faith community. In every authentic Christian congregation there are persons of meekness, ministers of mercy, and workers for peace. Their presence and activity among us is a sign of God’s blessing and a call to all of us to conform our common life more and more to these kingdom values.
Verses 17-48 comprise six interpretations of scripture. He concludes this section by telling his disciples, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The core principle in this section is the rule of love. God’s perfection, then, is to judge all interactions based on the principle of love.
In the sayings about salt and light, the readers/disciples are not challenged to try harder to be salt and light, but are told that as followers of Jesus they are salt and light for the world. The text calls the reader not to more self-exertion, but to believe Jesus’ word and to accept and live out the new reality it has already created in the call to discipleship.
Jesus “rules” express the inherent rule of the kingdom of God: they are God’s ultimate way of dealing with humanity exhibited in the life and death of Jesus, who went to the cross. They are not to be made “reasonable,” for they violate the “common sense” of this world and point to another reality. They ask us whether we are oriented to the God who has redefined power and kingship in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Find the 2016 Scripture Schedule and our reading guides here