If you were writing a story about someone who made a huge impact on your life, what would you make sure was included and what might you leave out?
The Protestant Canon of Jewish and Christian Scriptures include four stories about the life of Jesus, we term “gospels”—good-news reports about one of the most influential men who ever lived. These are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each has similarities to the others, but each one also provides some unique perspectives. And each one seems to be written for a different audience. This quarter, we’ll study the book of Matthew. In today’s lesson, we’ll start with a bit of background to the book and its author, then discuss some broad lessons in the first couple chapters.
Author of the Book
- Are there clues about the author from within the Book of Matthew?
- Evidence from external sources (early church leaders’ testimony)
- What can we know about Matthew?
- Also called Levi (named after the 3rd son of Jacob and Leah, “joined” or “united”)
- Tax Collector (see Luke 5:27-29)
- Had a party for Jesus at his home and invited many other tax collectors and sinners. Maybe Zacchaeus had been there…?
Character of the Book and Audience
- Matthew’s organizational structure (as opposed to Luke’s “scattering” of passages).
Matthew is organized into five broad sections. Some have drawn parallels with the first five books of the Old Testament—the Pentateuch—which formed the foundation of Israel’s law (“Torah”).
- Teaching about the Kingdom and its ethics
- The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7)
- The Kingdom parables (Matt 13, 18)
- Eschatology—“The Return of the King” in the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24-25)
- “Fulfillment” emphasis
- Focus on the fulfillment of Old Testament Prophetic oracles in Jesus
- Jesus’ fulfillment of the Old Testament Law in the Sermon on the Mount (5:17)
- Messianic hopes fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 1:1, 16; cf. 1:17, and 2:1). Matthew is the only Synoptic Gospel whose narrator calls Jesus the Messiah. In John 1:41, Andrew tells Peter they had found the Messiah, and in John 4:25, Jesus tells the woman at the well that He is the Messiah she had been hoping for.
- Unique passages in Matthew
- Infancy narratives: focus on Joseph, arrival of the Magi (1:18-2:23). See Luke for the Shepherds, Elisabeth and Zechariah, and a focus on Mary.
- Passion narratives of the Judas’ remorse (27:3-10), Pilate’s wife’s dream (27:19) and washing his hands (27:24-25), special resurrection (27:252-53), soldiers guarding the tomb and bribery (27:62-66, 28:11-15), Jesus’ appearance to the eleven (28:16-20).
What separates Matthew’s story of Jesus from the others? What gives it a unique character? Who did Matthew write for, that is, who would most appreciate his story of Jesus?
Matthew 1:1-17: Genealogy
Matthew begins his story with a summary verse in 1:1: Jesus is the messiah, Son of David, and Son of Abraham. He sets up a Jewish audience to hear the story of a potential messianic candidate. He then—in good Jewish fashion—provides a genealogical record of this man’s history, starting with Abraham and working his way down to Jesus. We usually skip over reading the “begats.” But Matthew’s is fascinating! His genealogy is different from Luke’s in its inclusion of some unsavory people. Most political campaigns try to paint their candidates in the best light, but Matthew goes out of his way to include those who might sully the Messiah’s pure lineage. We don’t have time to examine every person on this list, but we see murderers, prostitutes, pagans, idol-worshippers, liars, and thieves.
What would Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus convey to a Jew looking for the Messiah? Why would Matthew include some of the people he does when he may have left others out? What lessons might this list of people in Jesus’ lineage hold for me?
Matthew 1:18-25: Jesus’ Scandalous Birth
Joseph didn’t believe Mary was pregnant by God until an angel came to him and told him to take her as his wife. He wanted to divorce Mary “secretly”.
Describe Joseph’s character. What kind of man did God chose to help raise His Son?
Matthew 2:1-23: The Visit of the Magi
Only Matthew includes this story. The Magi (plural, but not necessarily only three men) come from the East. They’re aware by means of Astronomy of a new star, and perhaps from the fourth oracle of Balaam in Numbers 24:17: “A star shall come forth from Jacob, A Scepter shall rise from Israel, and shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth.”
How does the story of the Magi add to Matthew’s story of Jesus? What does their presence in Jerusalem mean for Herod, for the religious scholars and rabbis, and for Israel in general?
Christ’s lineage should give use hope that God in the flesh would take up human nature, even when its history is one of scandal; but even sinful humans are able to be associated with Christ through their faith.