The Gospel of Matthew: Kickstart your Bible Reading
The first book of the New Testament is packed full of insight into the man Jesus. For that reason it is an excellent book to start with if you’re reading the Bible for the first time. The whole book has so much to say about Jesus, God, the problem with humanity and God’s kingdom that Jesus announced. If you want to understand what the Bible and Christianity is really about, you can’t go wrong starting with the gospel of Matthew.
A journey to discover Jesus
From the opening lines to the closing words, we are led on a journey to understand who Jesus is. We follow him from a small family in Nazareth to the mountain where Jesus delivered the famous Sermon on the Mount. We come alongside his close friends, the 12 disciples, as they learn more about how the chosen Messiah of Israel was to bring about the kingdom he proclaimed. And we sit at the foot of the cross observing the terrible scenes which quickly turn to awe on the resurrection morning.
The general storyline is easy to follow, but there is a lot more going on than simply telling the story. Who exactly is Jesus? What does it mean for Jesus to be the Christ and the Son of God? We took on the challenge of exploring how Jesus is portrayed in the gospel of Matthew in our podcast over six episodes. We talked through the main events step by step and how best to read and understand them. It’s effectively an easy-to-listen-to audio commentary giving an overview of the book to help listeners get more out of their Bible reading!
The Gospel of Matthew: one portrait of Jesus
The gospel according to Matthew is one of four different portraits of Jesus in the New Testament. They of course have a huge amount of overlap, especially between Matthew, Mark and Luke, but each of the four gospel writers are also trying to do something distinct about how they present Jesus.
In Matthew, we find Jesus rooted in the Old Testament promises of a king to come. He is the expected Messiah to announce the kingdom – the Son of David. Except right from the word go there’s something very unusual about the genealogy in Matthew 1. We delve into this in the first episode, “First things First”, where we try to show the importance of spotting the Old Testament background when reading the New Testament.
Themes and patterns in the Gospel of Matthew
In our second episode, we thought about how the structure of a piece of literature is important. Did you know Matthew is divided up with five blocks of large collections of Jesus’ sayings? We discovered some important themes that begin to present Jesus as the appointed king and someone who has been given authority from God.
We spent some time looking at why Jesus was called Immanuel, which means “God with us”. Did you know that this comes directly from a passage in the Old Testament book Isaiah? This helps us understand how the first century readers of the book of Matthew would have understood this, so we ought to pay attention to that. The phrase doesn’t actually mean that Jesus is literally God; it means that he is a sign that God is working with his people yet again to save them. The twist in Matthew is that God is also working to rescue the whole world, which is really good news!
Jesus and the devil in the wilderness
Things get mysterious in Matthew 4! Jesus confronts a character in the wilderness called “Satan” or “the Devil” and he is tested and tempted to do certain things. We spend a whole episode considering how the best way of reading this passage is to concentrate on the struggles that Jesus went through considering his options. He could have been a saviour of the people by leading an army against the Roman occupation, taking all the kingdoms of the world there and then. But he didn’t, he overcame his own desire and modeled the perfect servant king.
Did Jesus tell us what to do to get to heaven?
It’s true that Jesus talked a lot about “the kingdom of heaven”. So much so that we thought about this phrase and how it is used in the gospel according to Matthew in our fourth episode. However, it doesn’t have anything to do with going anywhere when we die. Jesus was talking about restoring God’s rule and sovereignty on earth.
The kingdom of God (or heaven – it means the same thing) is something that will be complete in the future, but there’s an aspect to it that is relevant to day-to-day life now. Accepting the rule of God in our lives now should mean we begin to live the way Jesus wanted us to – now that’s a real challenge!
Who is Jesus?
We eventually got round to asking the most important question in episode five! Who exactly is Jesus? How does the gospel of Matthew portray Jesus? Is Jesus God? Or is he the exalted human, the one like the Son of Man in Daniel 7? We explored all of this, looking at the different titles and names give to Jesus in the book of Matthew and conclude that he is indeed God’s Son, but this is not the same as saying he is God. In fact, there is no indication at all within the gospel narrative that he is part of God, or pre-existed. He’s given authority to act as God’s agent, yes. And this doesn’t mean we should view him any less – in fact it may make the things he did even more amazing and awe-inspiring.
Jesus on the cross – and the glorious resurrection!
Finally, we discussed the death of Jesus in light of how the gospel of Matthew portrays him. If Jesus was God’s appointed king and the Son of God, does this mean that his mission was a failure because he died? Does this mean that God had abandoned him?
Understanding the death of Jesus – and his resurrection – is based on understanding the rest of the gospel narrative. The resurrection of Jesus was vindication for Jesus and proof that his claims to be the Messiah were endorsed by God himself. This gives us grounds to follow him, look forward to his coming again, and to live as he envisaged his followers to live to bring God’s light and love to the rest of the world.
Why are there four gospels and why are there differences between the gospels? Does that pose a problem in trusting what they say? We discuss this in episode 9 of the Bible Feed podcast.
Josh and Nathan talk about reasons to believe in the resurrection of Jesus in episode 21.