Today I have decided not to talk about the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus, women who demonstrate God's world view and that He can accomplish great things through outcasts and people of low position. I've decided not to discuss the Jewish marriage system involving engagement, betrothal and then marriage and how that affected Mary and Joseph's situation. I'm not even going to discuss the amazing kind of people that both Mary and Joseph must have been to accept the Holy Spirit's explanation of things and act in obedience and faith.
For this morning's devotional I decided to get into a little background of the book of Matthew and share a few "scholarly" things that interested me. I know that in your groups this morning you will dive deeper into the scriptures of chapter 1 as you study the continuation of God's plan for our salvation set in motion from the beginning of time.
In researching the background of the book of Matthew, I was surprised to find a couple of controversies. Some early scholars believed that Matthew was written in Hebrew and then translated later into Greek. Later scholars refute this and propose that Matthew wrote a compilation of the sayings of Jesus know as "Q" (for Quelle, meaning "source") that would have been in Hebrew. It is also debated as to when Matthew was written and even whether it was the first gospel written. Some hold the opinion that Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke were drawn from there. Some even disagree on whether someone else actually wrote Matthew, but that it was based on Matthew's "Q" and experiences. Although these things are of some interest, all I can tell you for certain is that the Word is inspired or "God-breathed" and that Matthew tells the greatest news of all for mankind: that Jesus came to the earth as a man, lived among man, died to save me from my sins and was raised again so that I, too, can be raised again to live with God eternally.
We know little about Matthew himself. His name was Levi, son of Alphaeus. Perhaps after accepting the call of Jesus, he received the name change to Matthew which means "gift of God." We learn in the book of Matthew that he was a tax collector before Jesus called him. This office was filled by the Roman government by appointing a Jew to collect the taxes. I have read that there were two main sorts of taxes: the fixed taxes, such as that of ground grain and wine, fruit and oil, income, and poll. Another more arbitrary tax was levied customs, transport, export and imports. This is the category that provided opportunity for bribery and extortion which made the publican hated. Matthew collected taxes for Herod Antipas who paid out the taxes to Rome. Because they functioned for the Romans, they were doubly hated. The Jews considered tax collectors traitors and even classified them with murderers.
Matthew wrote for a primarily Jewish audience. The gospel of Matthew was written by a Jew to convince Jews that Jesus was the Messiah and to share the good news. In verse 1, Matthew states his purpose as he continues the Old Testament story line with the arrival of the promised Messiah. To begin, he affirms Jesus' impressive Jewish ancestry in a lengthy genealogy, beginning with Abraham, father of the Jewish nation. He demonstrates Jesus' royalty through the great King David and then continues the line to Joseph, husband of Mary, "of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ" (Matthew 1:16). To us, this may not be interesting or impressive, but to the Jew it would have been both. Perhaps because of his background as a tax collector keeping records and arranging information in an orderly fashion, the generations are arranged in groups. They are arranged in three groups of 14. This may have made the generations easier to memorize. Remember, Matthew was written years before there were printed books; few people would have had copies.
Another objective of Matthew's writing is to show that all the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus as the Messiah. Throughout the book of Matthew, one phrase occurs as many as 16 times in the book--"This was to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet." The Jews were looking for a king, a Messiah, to lead them into a glory that was rightfully theirs. Matthew emphasizes Jesus as king or royalty and uses the title "son of David" more than in any other gospel. Many of the common people recognized and referred to Jesus as "the son of David" and even welcomed him into Jerusalem as a king. Even then, they and even the disciples could not fully understand the nature of Jesus' kingdom. Before Pilate, Jesus accepts the name of King and finally claims all authority in the final chapter of Matthew.
It has been said that Matthew is perhaps the most important document in the New Testament because it is the fullest, most systematic account of the birth, life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The book contains a few unique characteristics that I would like to point out:
One writer (William Barclay) mentions that the pivotal point in Matthew is in chapter 13:57. The first part of the book took place in Galilee and the second in Judaea. Jesus' emphasis moves from the crowds to the 12 disciples.
- Because Matthew's target audience was the Jews, there are some unique characteristics found in the writing. Old Testament prophecies are sprinkled throughout the book. Many Jewish laws and practices are mentioned in the gospel but are not explained because the Jewish reader/hearer would need no explanation. Out of respect for Jews, who never wrote out the word "God," Matthew uses the phrase "kingdom of heaven" where other writers say "kingdom of God."
- Perhaps because Matthew was a former tax collector, he includes three stories in this gospel that are not found in the other three: the parable of the unmerciful servant in chapter 18, the parable of the vineyard workers in chapter 20 and the parable of the talents in chapter 25. Interestingly, he also records Jesus' strongest words on the treatment of the poor and needy.
- Matthew is the only one of the three Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke) which uses the word "Church." Matthew includes the Church after Peter's confession in chapter 16 and mentions the Church in the settling of disputes in chapter 18. ["Synoptic" refers to the three gospels that give an account of the same events in Jesus' life. Events can be lined up and compared with each other. It literally means "able to be seen together."]
- As mentioned before, Matthew may have arranged things in sets that were easy to memorize. He often groups things in 3s or 7s: 3 denials of Peter, 3 questions of Pilate, 7 parables of the Kingdom in chapter 13, and 7 woes to the scribes and Pharisees in chapter 23. Watch for these groupings as you go through the study. It is generally agreed by most who have studied the book carefully that it can be divided into five blocks of teaching material with some events in Jesus' life in between these.
- Introduction in chapters 1-4
- Teaching 1: the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7
- Jesus miracles of healing in three groups, chapters 8,9
- Teaching 2: the Mission charge, or "Duties of the Leaders of the Kingdom", chapter 10
- The rejection of John and Jesus by the Jews, chapters 11-12
- Teaching 3: the Parables of the Kingdom, chapter 13
- Miracles, controversies with Pharisees, Peter's confession and the Transfiguration, 14-17
- Teaching 4: the Church, chapter 18
- Jesus goes up to Jerusalem and teaches, chapters 19-22
- Teaching 5: Judgement and the end of the world, chapters 23-25
- The last days, death and resurrection of Jesus, chapter 26-28
Some of you here today have heard and studied the teachings of Jesus in the book of Matthew for years. Perhaps some of you have not spent much time in this book. No matter which category you are in, or somewhere in between, I am positive that this year's study of Matthew will bring things to light that you had not thought about and bring you closer to your Savior and God. May God bless our study this year.
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