Monday, September 04, 2017

Reading Through the Gospel of Matthew #1 (Intro and 1-4)

Keener MatthewWith this post we begin a new series reading through the New Testament which will go through August of next year. We begin by reading through the Gospel of Matthew accompanied by Matthew, vol. 1, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, by Craig S. Keener. I am posting from my reading in the New Testament accompanied by various commentaries on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version (for some reason I cannot make the page numbers come up in the quotes) of the book. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the book are in blue.

Keener begins by stating his desire to write a commentary that will "echo and apply Matthew's own message." He applies all the critical methods because he believes they tend to support the historicity of Matthew's biography of Jesus. He sees Matthew as using Mark and Q as his major sources, but that he also had other sources unknown to us. For example, he may have taken notes when Jesus was speaking. Keener suggests that we read through each Gospel completely to get the impact and unique message it brings and that is exactly what we are going to do this year with each book of the New Testament.

Jesus ate with sinners as he won them to God’s kingdom, and reserved his fiercest denunciations for those who claimed to be doing God’s will but were not doing so.

Rather than reading a story about Jesus here and there, skipping from one Gospel to another, Christians should read the Gospels the way God chose to give them to us, one Gospel at a time. Further, we should read the Gospels as narratives, as stories (in this case true stories). Like the first Christian readers, we must ask, “What is the moral or point of this story?”

As Christians we also read each book of the Bible as a message from God. We ask a final question: “Given what God inspired the author to say to the book’s first audience, how does this message address God’s people and our society today?”...For us the Bible is both history and literature, but it is far more: it is a message from God that we live by.

Keener tentatively puts the writing of Matthew in the 70's, within 40 years of the resurrection, and sees the member of the 12, Matthew, as having a part in the production of the Gospel, with it probably being completed by his disciples. Matthew was written to a Jewish audience which was being persecuted and in conflict with rabbinic Judaism. Thus, the emphasis is on Jesus as Messiah and the completer of the expectations of the Old Testament prophecies and history. Jesus also was the living "Shekinah," God's presence among humans.

Matthew probably functions as a discipling manual, a “handbook” of Jesus’ basic life and teaching, relevant to a Jewish Christian community engaged in the Gentile mission and deadlocked in scriptural polemic with their local synagogue communities.

One of the most prominent characteristics of Matthew’s Jesus is how he fulfills Scripture, sometimes literally and sometimes as the embodiment of Israel’s history. Matthew is clear that Jesus is the goal of the Law and Prophets; hence anyone faithful to the heritage and the Bible of Israel must recognize and follow him. 

When Christians dare to believe that they are citizens of a future age, empowered by the Spirit who rules among them, they will begin to live like people of the future age instead of letting the world define their identity and establish their values. Through the Spirit, Christians can live out the reality that Jesus is King of the deepest values and sentiments of their hearts (Gal 5:16).

Matthew records events from Jesus' childhood and early preparation for ministry to show that he is the culmination of God's plan for the history of Israel and the mission to the Gentiles, and that, as Savior, he identifies with people in their pain and depression and saves them through it.

Matthew begins with a genealogy to show a basic truths about Jesus' mission: He came as the culmination of God's plan for Israel to bless the entire world. Besides detailing Jesus royal lineage, Matthew includes four Gentile women that married into the royal family and typify God's plan to bless the world. In the birth story of Jesus, while Luke emphasizes Mary story, Matthew emphasizes the righteousness of Joseph. Joseph chooses to obey what God tells him in a dream rather than cling to his honor which would have allowed him to divorce Mary. Joseph chooses obedience over cultural norms and the honor of his peers.

Genealogies like those in Genesis typically list a person’s descendants after this phrase, rather than his ancestors. Matthew’s point here is profound: so much is Jesus the focal point of history that his ancestors depend on him for their meaning. In other words, God sovereignly directed the history of Israel and preserved David’s line because of his plan to send Jesus. Matthew 1:2-17

As God “with us,” Jesus is also the fully human one who save[s] his people by the cross. Matthew thus invites us to consider and worship the God who accepted the ultimate vulnerability, born as an infant to poor and humiliated parents into a world hostile to his presence. Oppressors must hate such a God, for his abandonment of power for love is contrary to everything they stand for. But the broken and oppressed find in him a Savior they can trust in a world where trust is generally dangerous. Of all the world’s faiths, only Christianity announces a God who embraced our pain with us. Matthew 1:18-25

The story of the Magi is another of the indications that Matthew is concerned for the mission to the Gentiles. The irony here is that pagans are honoring God's Messiah, while the religious leaders of the Jews, who know enough to know where Messiahs born, are not willing to go out of their way even to go find him. Herod typifies the oppressor of God's people. He reminds one of pharaoh. And like the Israelites in Egypt, Jesus's family becomes refugees fleeing Herod, but preserved by God. Ultimately the oppressor dies and God's plan goes on. Jesus lives his early life in Nazareth and Matthew makes a word play off the Hebrew word nazar, the “branch,” to show that the plan for Messiah will start small, but moves on despite the opposition of the world.

God who rules the heavens chose to reveal himself where the pagans were looking. Without condoning astrology, Matthew’s narrative challenges our prejudice against outsiders to our faith: even the most pagan of pagans may respond to Jesus if given the opportunity. What a resounding call for the church today to pursue a culturally sensitive yet uncompromising commitment to missions! Matthew 2:1-12

The past exodus with which Jesus identified (Hos 11:1) was the historic sign of the covenant anticipating a new exodus (Hos 11:11). By quoting the beginning of the passage, Matthew evokes the passage as a whole and shows how Jesus is the forerunner of the new exodus, the time of ultimate salvation. Matthew uses God’s pattern in history to remind us that our call and destiny, not the ridicule of outsiders, must define us. We are the people of the new exodus, the people of God’s kingdom. Matthew 2:15

Matthew 3-4 record the preparation and early organization of Jesus' calling and ministry. In chapter 3 Jesus submits to John's baptism as a witness to the nation, which John and God the Father confirm, that Jesus will bring in the promised kingdom. John's lifestyle and message confirm that he is the promised Elijah who will announce the coming of Messiah. He calls the nation to a change of lifestyle (repent) to become ready for the kingdom and denounces the religious leaders who have misused their position for personal gain. John challenges all of us to live our lives according to the promises of God's word rather than allow our culture to dictate our lifestyle.

Matthew is telling us that John lived simply, with only the barest forms of necessary sustenance. Although God calls only some disciples to such a lifestyle (Mt 11:18–19), this lifestyle challenges all of us to adjust our own values. Others’ needs must come before our luxuries (Lk 3:11; 12:33; 14:33), and proclaiming the kingdom is worth any costMatthew 3:1-12

Jesus’ example also calls us to offer ourselves sacrificially for an undeserving world as he offered himself for us. In a world that regards moral boundaries as impractical, where nothing higher than selfish passion guides many lives around us, Jesus reminds us of a higher mission and purpose for our lives. By submitting to baptism by one of lower rank who was nevertheless fulfilling his calling, Jesus also models humility for us. Matthew 3:13-17

Keener makes the point that all callings from God must be tested. Jesus passes his test in the temptation. He repeats the history of Israel in the wilderness, but he passes the test that they failed and trusts God for all His needs. He resists the temptation to use God's power for selfish needs, for getting God to miraculously back his own agenda, or to gain political power. Jesus uses scripture in context to defend against temptation while the devil tempts by taking scriptures out of context. Chapter 4 ends with the beginning organization of Jesus' ministry. Matthew defends Jesus' choice of Galilee as a base of operations and emphasizes the prophesied outreach to the Gentiles. Keener also sees Matthew emphasizing the high cost of following Jesus and a holistic view of ministry that meets the physical and spiritual needs of people.

Political and social involvement are important; marketing strategies are not necessarily wrong; but when we substitute any other means of transforming society for dependence on God, we undercut the very purpose for our mission...Atheists and Christians often use the same methods of social change; but if we genuinely embrace a faith worth defending, can we also have the faith to go beyond those methods and depend on God to give us revival? The temptation narrative strikes at the heart of human religion and worldly conceptions of power—and reminds us of how close that danger can come to believers. Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus cared about people in their totality and was concerned for their pressing needs. His example summons us to a more well-rounded ministry that preaches the gospel through evangelism and demonstrates the gospel through ministries of compassion, justice and Spirit-empowered healing. Matthew 4:23

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