Friday, September 19, 2014

Reading Through Matthew (1-13) #1

This school year I am reading through the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited John Stott. I post quotes from my morning readings (MWF – I do the OT on TTS) on Facebook and will periodically post to this blog. The post will include some of my thoughts on the New Testament book and the best quotes from the commentary. The commentary series starts with The Message of Matthew: The Kingdom of Heaven, by Michael Green. I have enjoyed the commentary so far. Green focuses his commentary on the “big picture” message of the book as he discusses it section by section. I would recommend it as devotional commentary and as a good resource for preaching and teaching preparation.

I would see the overall message of the Gospel of Matthew to be: Jesus is truly the king of the Jews and promised salvation of the Gentiles predicted in the prophets to bring the kingdom of god, and, despite the rejection of his own people Israel, demands a response of full commitment to him now in trust that he will bring in the full expression of his kingdom with judgment and blessing in the future.

As is my custom, quotes from the commentary, (here all are from Michael Green), are in blue with my comments in the standard color.

Matthew goes out of his way to show that the barriers between men and women are broken down: women share in the official genealogy of the Messiah alongside men. The barriers between Gentiles and Jews are broken down too: Ruth plays her part in the coming of one who was to be not only Messiah of Israel but Saviour of the whole world. And the juxtaposition of sinful women like Bathsheba and Tamar with Mary, the gentle mother of Jesus, shows that the barriers between good people and bad people have also come crashing down. Michael Green, 59.

The Father loves us enough to send his Son, the one who shares both God’s nature and ours. He comes to rescue his people from their sins, enemies far more deadly than Rome. If God loves like that, it is good news, gospel, indeed. Matthew 1, 64.

God is the God of surprises. Those who think they can predict his actions need to think again. How sad that in many churches, this element of surprise is almost entirely absent, and boring predictability governs all that happens! Matthew 2.1-12, 66.

The whole unsavoury story of Herod’s activity in all this is an awesome reminder of how deeply opposition to Jesus can be rooted in the hearts of people who are not prepared to allow his gentle rule to control them. If we are determined to get our own way at all costs, we will go to any lengths to eliminate all trace of Jesus and his claims on our lives. Matthew 2.13-23, 72.

Opposition is inevitable, but it will never, in the providence of God, be allowed to quench God’s mission...What an encouragement that would have been to Matthew’s readers! The church, so frail, so exposed, would not be allowed to sink, however threatening the storms and waves that broke over it. Matthew, 74.

Religious observance and religious pedigree are not enough. The Pharisees and Sadducees had that and to spare. Orthodoxy is not enough. To be Abraham’s seed is not enough. If there is no heartfelt repentance, there will be no spiritual life for you in the kingdom of the Messiah. Matthew 3.1-12, 78.

And after a high spiritual experience, such as the baptism undoubtedly was for Jesus, temptation frequently comes, and properly comes. It sorts out the emotional ‘high’ from the reality of spiritual conquest and growth. We are not meant to live on spiritual highs. We are meant to live on the bread that comes from God alone, even if it is bread in the desert. Matthew 4.1-11, 82.

It is not uncharacteristic of God to go for the least likely place, where the orthodox would never expect to find him, among the greatest masses of unreached humanity. Matthew 4.15, 85.

Wherever the church is truly carrying out the work of the kingdom, those three strands—challenging preaching, clear teaching and healing (of physical disease, inner hurts and grip by dark forces)—will be seen. Matthew 4.12-25, 86–87.

Jesus birth, early life and ministry identify him as the coming king promised by the prophets who will rule, fulfill Israel’s purpose and bring salvation  His birth and childhood events show that he is the prophesied and rightful king of Israel and fulfillment of God’s promise to be with His people. His baptism, temptations and beginning ministry show that he is the promised king of Israel who will accomplish what Israel failed to do and will inaugurate the kingdom of God.

But the main point about the mountain here is the parallel to Mount Sinai. Moses went up Mount Sinai to get the law from God to give to the people of Israel. And now Moses’ great successor ascends a mountain to receive from his Father and transmit to his disciples the law of the kingdom. We have a new law for a new people given on a new mountain by a new Moses. Matthew 5-7, 89.

The citizens of the kingdom are called to put God first in their motives and their actions, in their business and their language, in their thought life and their priorities. All life comes under his royal control. Matthew 5.1-12, 89.

We are not promised that we shall be able to Christianize the legislation and values of the world, but we are challenged to be an irritant, marching to a different drum and calling on society to heed God’s standards. Matthew 5.13-16, 92.

Jesus looks for the inner disposition as well as the outer action. The law is not the limit of obedience; it is to be seen rather as the springboard for a life of devotion to Jesus and his Father...Greatness in God’s kingdom is measured by wholehearted obedience. Matthew 5.17-48, 92.

Sincere obedience to God’s word is the key to an authentic devotional life. Not playing to the gallery, but humbly living in the light of the Father’s will. Such is the attitude he can reward. Matthew 6.1-18, 98.

Not only is it important to have your treasure in the right place; it is also vital to approach life with a generous, warm appraisal of other people. There are few things so distorting as an ungenerous, mean and critical spirit. Matthew 6.19-34, 103.

That generous attitude of going out of your way to encourage the depressed, to forgive those who have wronged you, and to help the disadvantaged requires positive action, often self-sacrificial action. You don’t do that to fulfil some law. You do it only if the love of the kingdom burns in your heart.  Matthew 7.1-12, 107.

Jesus Christ came to destroy religion...What Jesus offers is totally different. It begins not from our reaching up, but from God’s reaching down. It is not a religion at all, but a revelation and a rescue. Matthew 7.13-27, 110.

True Kingdom righteousness is focused on Jesus and is seen in changed attitudes which show up in godly actions, words, and relationships. True acts of worship recognize God as He is and flow from a committed relationship that is fully dependent on Him. True discernment judges self and others by God’s standards and recognizes that the ultimate standard of judgment is fidelity to Jesus’ words as shown by active response.

The Jews had to learn the lesson, which their ancestors knew and Gentiles were beginning to discover, along with the centurion in the days of Jesus, that faith is the key to entry into the messianic banquet, and faith is the key to experiencing the power of Jesus.  Matthew 8.10, 116.

Matthew sees him here coming from the mountain of revelation (chs. 5–7) and entering into the valley of the shadow, where sickness and demonic forces held sway. And he was willing to carry the burden of the pain, ostracism and defilement of broken humankind, just as he would later bear its sin. Matthew 8.1-17, 117.

In these three stories, then, Jesus is laying claim to divine authority. The claim is explicit. It is superbly documented. It challenges the hearers to the roots of their being...Nothing less than complete and immediate obedience to such a call and allegiance to such a person will suffice. Matthew 8.23-9.8, 123.

Unlike some church people in many parts of the world, Jesus was totally relaxed in the presence of ‘sinners’ and outsiders of every kind. They loved to be with him... Here we see among the Pharisees a tendency, which will reappear more strongly as the story unfolds, to judge Jesus rather than revel in the mercy he offers, and to pride themselves on their own fancied goodness instead of recognizing his...There is no room for the Pharisee spirit in the kingdom. The word means ‘separated ones’, proud that they stand out from the crowd and are good people. Such an attitude stinks in God’s nostrils. The kingdom is a one-class society—for sinners only. Matthew 9.9-13, 124.

We see in this mission charge some useful criteria for determining authentic Christian workers. How about their attitude to money, comfort and prosperity (9)? How about their peace in the midst of undeserved suffering (17–19)? How about their endurance (22)? How about their likeness to Jesus (24)? How about their cutting edge (34)? Have they the courage to face opposition? Matthew 10, 133.

Disciples are called to see, to care, to pray, to receive, and to go. Those five words more or less summarize the mission charge. Matthew 10.6-7, 136.

Jesus’ miracles validate his divine origin and authority and his qualifications to be the king who demands full commitment and sacrifice. The call to follow him shows he has the authority to present the kingdom to the nation and delegate kingdom offices to his followers and empower them to do his kingdom work

When you are in the kingdom, committed with single-minded devotion to the King, you are even closer to him than John was. That seems to be the logic of Jesus’ words. The kingdom is the thing. Don’t miss the kingdom! Matthew 11.1-24, 138.

There is a deeper rest, which cannot be given but can only be found: the rest of taking his yoke upon us and entering into partnership with him. He wants not only to welcome back the sinner, but to train the disciple. Matthew 11.25-30, 143.

His yoke is gentle, but not in the sense that it is less demanding than Judaism. In some ways it is more demanding. But it is the yoke of love, not of duty. It is the response of the liberated, not the duty of the obligated. And that makes all the difference. Matthew 11.25-30, 143.

Human need took precedence over ritual custom...worship of God took precedence over the regulations about the day... God looks for the loving allegiance of the heart rather than the ritualistic precision of the cultus...He puts compassion above ritual. Matthew 12.1-8, 146.

For those who sin against the light, against the Holy Spirit, deliberately ascribe to evil what they know comes from God. And it is unforgivable not because God will not forgive, but because those who practice such deliberate self-deception cannot bring themselves to the requisite repentance. Matthew 12.38-42, 148.

Religious practices and religious pedigree are utterly inadequate to bring anybody into the kingdom. There needs to be an acknowledgment of who Jesus is, and a determined decision to follow him. That brings a person into the most intimate relationship with Christ, closer than physical mother or brother. Matthew 12.46-50, 151.

Despite rejection which will be severely judged, Jesus continues to offer kingdom rest to the faithful in the present age. He will be vindicated by the resurrection and will judge those who reject him, but bring the faithful into God’s family. Jesus’ low-key healing ministry to identifies him as the humble servant-Messiah predicted in Isaiah and thus the choice made about following Jesus is decisive for one’s eternal destiny.The resurrection would be the final determining sign of who Jesus is and, because it was rejected, the nation would be in an unrecoverable position. In this age Jesus identifies his true family as those who hear and obey the Father.

The third reason Jesus taught in parables was that they were a spur towards decision. The kingdom cannot be understood from Professor C. F. D. Moule once put it to me, ‘You can’t teach by spoon-feeding. You must let people puzzle it out for themselves. Matthew 13, 154.

Leaven had a bad press in Judaism. All leaven had to be scrupulously removed from the house before Passover. So the hearers would be surprised to find Jesus using leaven as an image of the kingdom...But God is like that. He takes distasteful characters and transforms them, and then transforms society through them. Matthew 13.33, 158–159.

The leaders in Matthew’s church were like scribes who drew from the storeroom of their Christian and pre-Christian knowledge new treasures and old (52). Christ does not come to erase all that we gained in life before we met him. He comes to enrich it...A rabbi is one who ‘will seek out the hidden meanings of proverbs and be at home with the obscurities of parables’. So should Matthew’s leaders be, as they seek to hold together the old torah and the new. But such teachers are no independent originators of truth. They remain disciples, learners to the end. Matthew 13.47-58, 161.

The hint of Gentile expansion at the end of the first half of the book is made explicit with the Great Commission to the Gentile mission at the end of the second half. The proximate rejection of Jesus in his patris leads forward to his ultimate recognition universally throughout the world. Matthew 13.53-58 162.

The parables show that the kingdom has begun with the words of Jesus and God demands a faithful response to him now that will be rewarded in the eschatological judgment and full establishment of God’s rule on all the earth. The kingdom will start small and insignificantly but will become larger and influential as it grows side by side with the kingdom of the enemy until Jesus’ final victory.

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