(The following is adapted from a bulletin insert from this past weekend. I’ve added new material, not included in the printed insert.)
At Shepherd of the Hills, we as a congregation will be journeying through Matthew’s Gospel from Advent through Easter.
Why? There’s no more important topic that the life and work of Jesus. By studying Matthew, we’ll take an in-depth look at one of the four biographies of Jesus, highlighting what is unique about Matthew’s Gospel.
In today’s post, I’ll provide context on Matthew’s Gospel. Tomorrow will be part two, a continuation of background on Matthew. To aid your growth in the Christian faith, you’ll also begin receiving a blog version of the weekend sermon, in addition to topical blog posts. I pray that these extra resources will be a blessing to you!
Why is Matthew called The First Gospel?
Many scholars believe that of the four Gospels, Mark was written first. According to this theory, Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source in compiling their Gospels. This would explain the common material in these three Gospels, Mark being the shortest.
If that’s the case, if Mark was written first, then why is Matthew placed first in our Bibles? There are several possible explanations. One that I find compelling: Matthew is a natural bridge from the Old Testament. His Gospel begins with a genealogy connecting the people of the Old Testament to Jesus. Matthew’s writing is saturated with Old Testament references. His Gospel demonstrates that out of the old, emerges the new!
Why do we have four Gospels?
Each of the Gospels gives us a different perspective on Jesus. It’s like looking at a prism from different angles – each angle brings forth a different kind of beauty.
Each author brings something different to the table. Matthew and John were disciples. Mark was a close friend of Peter. Luke was a doctor and traveling companion of Paul. Each person had a unique perspective on Jesus, all inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Gospels also verify and reinforce each other’s testimony. In a Jewish court of law, multiple witnesses were required for credibility. Through the four Gospels, God gives us multiple witnesses of the gracious acts of Jesus!
What else do we know about Matthew?
The name Matthew means “gift to the Lord.” He’s called by his other name, Levi, in Mark and Luke. Matthew was a tax collector. Tax collectors were regarded as some of the worst “sinners” in Bible times. They were notorious for overcharging and keeping more than their fair share of tax payments. When Jesus chose Matthew as a disciple, Matthew learned firsthand what grace is all about. No doubt, he wanted to share the joy of God’s grace in Christ with others. His Gospel does just that.
Distinguishing marks of Matthew’s Gospel
Some things in Matthew that are different from the other Gospels:
- Matthew is organized around five major speeches of Jesus. The first is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Each of the five speeches ends with “when Jesus finished saying these things,” or words to that effect. Some think that the fivefold structure was intended to imitate the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament), presenting the Gospel as the new Word of the Lord and Jesus as the new and greater Moses.
- Matthew was written to a Jewish, Greek-speaking audience. Matthew’s goal was to prove that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. Matthew quotes Old Testament prophecy 29 times, more than any other New Testament book.
- Though written for Jews, Matthew is intentional about showing God’s mission to save all people. The Gentiles (non-Jews) figure prominently in Matthew. Only Matthew contains the visit of the wise men. Only Matthew describes the holy family finding refuge in a Gentile land, Egypt. In several places, Matthew shows that God’s kingdom is for all people. Matthew 8:11 is a great example. The final words of the Gospel, the Great Commission, are Jesus’ explicit instructions to make disciples of all nations.
Tomorrow I’ll share with you about the opening of Matthew’s Gospel – the genealogy – and the element of scandal that it presents to us!
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