Episode 18: Discover Jesus in Matthew (2) God with us
Laurence Davenport and Dan Weatherall continue delving into the gospel of Matthew. The focus this time is how well structured the book is around major themes that are developed throughout the book. Jesus is presented as someone with authority and he is given that curious name, Immanuel. What does that mean? And how would the first readers of Matthew have understood God to be with them? Listen in to discover more about Jesus!
Haphazard or purposeful?
Dan and Laurence briefly recap the first episode then dive into a discussion about how the gospel of Matthew is structured and continues lots of themes that run through the book. In that respect, the gospel is not like perfect video camera footage, although it is obviously recounting a things that happened to the historical individual – Jesus of Nazareth. (See more on this in episode 9: Why are there four gospels?) And the themes that run through the book go beyond simple retelling, and make claims about who Jesus is.
Building on the previous episode, Dan and Laurence consider the theme of gentile inclusion in the purpose of God and how this is developed from the gentile women in chapter 1. At the birth of Jesus, wise men from the east are depicted coming to worship Jesus. These, as far as can be made out, are pagan magicians no less, and yet they recognise who the young Jesus is and that he deserves homage! In a way that echoes Isaiah 60, these gentiles show Jesus far more respect that the Jewish chief priests and rulers in Jerusalem.
God with us
The theme of gentile inclusion continues right until the end of the gospel when Jesus proclaims that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him, (Matthew 28:18), and he asks his disciples to go into all nations and make disciples from all parts of the world. This comes with a promise, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
What does Jesus mean? Dan and Laurence trace this back to the idea seen in Matthew 1 where Jesus is given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us”. So here is another theme of both God, and Jesus, being with the people of Israel. The phrase often comes with baggage, and so Dan and Laurence try to distill what it means in context, and how the original early Christians would have understood it.
The name comes from Isaiah 7:10-16. Here we find an evil king called Ahaz who refuses to request a sign from the prophet of God to prove that God is with his people. He doesn’t seem interested in knowing whether God is going to be with them and protect them and save them. Yet Isaiah gives the sign anyway. A child will be born, called Immanuel, and the proof that God is with the people will be seen in the fact that two oppressing kings will be taken off the scene before this child has grown from infancy.
The concept of God being with the people of Israel therefore does not convey anything like incarnation and it doesn’t require Jesus to be God in the flesh. The child Immanuel in Isaiah’s day wasn’t God incarnate. Matthew is claiming that Jesus is proof that God is with his people again, and that he is working to save them. The twist is that Jesus is a saviour both for his people, but also for all nations, proving that God is with, or can be with all peoples from all nations.
The remaining time in the podcast is spent looking at the structure of the book of Matthew which is around 5 collections of sayings. Dan and Laurence walk through these sections at high level, noting how carefully this has been put together.
The point of this literary structure is to emphasise various things. For example, the first collection of sayings, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), ends with the crowds being astonished that Jesus teaches with authority, (Matthew 7:28-29). The following events seem to have been collated together to show how Jesus does indeed have the authority to say these things. He is the man to whom God has given authority and power, therefore it is right and proper that at the end of the book Jesus claims that “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to him.
With much more to look into, Laurence and Dan reflect on how powerful this book is and how much more there is to discover about Jesus!