The Message of the New Testament: Promises Kept [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Mark Dever
eBook Category: Spiritual/Religion
eBook Description: Mark Dever surveys the historical context, organization, and theology of each New Testament book in light of God's Old Testament promises. His message is that of the New Testament itself, one of hope fulfilled.
eBook Publisher: Crossway Books, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: June 2009
THE MESSAGE OF MATTHEW:
JESUS, THE SON OF DAVID
WHY ARE THERE SO MANY GOSPEL ACCOUNTS?
[Footnote 1: This sermon was originally preached on June 6, 1999, at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D. C. ]
This month, the world population is projected to reach 6 billion people for the first time ever. Out of that 6 billion, about 14 million people claim to be Jews, 22 million claim to be Sikhs, and 350 million claim to be Buddhists. Various new religions claim around 100 million adherents, and about 250 million people are adherents of various tribal religions. There are also supposed to be about 150 million atheists. Everyone I have mentioned so far, then, totals about 900 million people.
The statisticians who compiled these figures describe about 800 million people as nonreligious. They do not explain how they compiled that category. If these particular researchers have defined mild Confucianism and Shintoism not as religions but as life customs, the great bulk of these "nonreligious" must be Chinese and Japanese.
Of those that are left, about 800 million are Hindu, a little more than one billion are Muslim, and about two billion are professing Christians.
I wonder how you react to such statistics. Those of us who are professing Christians may see something of the great challenge still before us for reaching the unreached. Some less spiritual types may feel a vague reassurance, a strangely satisfied feeling that "our team is on top!" Some may feel a despair of ever knowing the truth for themselves. Such a great variety of perceptions of ultimate reality seals their case--that the whole world is as confused and divided as they are.
An inquiring historian appearing on the scene might well ask, where did this largest of all the world's religions come from? Perhaps knowing a bit about religion, the historian realizes that Christianity is not a political or military movement like Islam that can expand by the sword. (The Crusades were a failed error on the part of a minority.) Nor is Christianity simply the life customs and mythology of a populous culture, emerging slowly out of the mists of common practice and lore, like Hinduism.
Christianity burst onto the scene, like Minerva emerging fully formed from Zeus's head. True, our understanding of various doctrines has developed through the church's history, but we trace them all back to our one teacher, Jesus Christ. His life and teaching, his death and his victory over death are together the exploding nucleus which has propelled this faith across Asia, Europe, Africa, and the globe. It all began in him.
It is this One, easily the most influential figure ever to live, who will be the subject for our studies in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Acts--the section we have called "The Truth About Jesus." To learn this truth, we will display one of the strange riches of the Christian faith: the accounts of four men who were contemporaries of Jesus--John, the disciple; Luke, the historian friend of the apostles; Mark, the young, well-placed friend in Jerusalem; and perhaps the strangest one of the lot, Matthew, the bureaucrat, the tax-collecting, pencil-pushing scribbler. Matthew was a tortured combination--Jewish by birth and Roman by employment. More important, he was one of the twelve disciples called by Jesus.
All four authors include in their accounts the same basic themes about the mission and message of Jesus, and you will find no disagreement between them. For example, our discussion of Mark is titled "Jesus, the Son of Man," because this is a title Jesus uses to refer to himself that is very prominent in Mark's Gospel. But we should not conclude that "Son of Man" is not used in Matthew. Indeed, it is used about thirty times in Matthew. And just one more example: where would an experienced Bible reader guess the following verse is from? "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." An experienced Bible reader may think this sounds like John's Gospel, but it is Matthew 11:27.
[Footnote 2:See Matt. 8:20; 9:6; 10:23; 11:19; 12:8, 32, 40; 13:37, 41; 16:13, 27-29; 17:9, 12, 22; 19:28; 20:18, 28; 24:27, 30, 37, 39, 44; 25:31; 26:2, 24, 45, 64. ]
These four verbal portraits of Jesus clearly present a unified picture. They are talking about the same person. And yet the Bible provides four separate accounts for a reason. The Lord did not leave just one testimony. Each Gospel writer emphasizes slightly different themes, and we can learn something fresh about Jesus from each one. Ultimately, all four will enrich our understanding of Jesus himself.
We begin where the New Testament begins, with Matthew, who presents the new with an understanding of its rootedness in the past. Everyone agrees that Matthew's Gospel was written in the decades immediately following the life of Jesus. Matthew's name is at the top of the book, but nowhere is Matthew named in the text itself. Nevertheless, it seems likely that the apostle Matthew was the author. From the earliest history of the church, other writers quoting from the text cite him as the author. And nothing in the book would lead us to think he did not write it. The book is written in fairly good Greek, which a tax collector and scribal official such as Matthew would be trained in. No other name has been closely associated with the book. And, honestly, there would be little reason for an anonymous writer to ascribe anything to Matthew. Matthew's background was not prestigious. A number of books were written right after the New Testament period under the assumed identity of someone famous. But these pseudonymous writers picked Peter, or Paul, or John. Nobody would have picked Matthew.
Pulling down Matthew's document from the shelf of history, what do we find? What does Matthew tell us about Jesus?
Some people expect to find the religious inventor par excellence. Jesus, they like to imagine, really knew how to make up a religion. He discovered the key to the human psyche and could market himself, or let himself be marketed, better than anyone ever.
Other people expect to find a Horatio Alger story, some self-made hero who has pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.
But if either group were to take up Matthew's Gospel and begin reading it carefully, they would not find someone who was a religious innovator with a product to sell or a self-made man, though Jesus certainly did teach some new things. Rather, they would find someone who thought and taught--indeed, who embodied and personified--what people had been taught not just for decades or centuries, but for millennia before him. It was as if history itself had been prepared for him.
Matthew provides a deeply textured portrait of Christ. What does this portrait portray? Was Jesus about something new? That is what the religious leaders at the time thought. We must go back two thousand years and listen to Matthew tell us what caused this startling phenomenon of Christ-ianity. Specifically, we want to ask three questions: 1) What does this book say? 2) Was Jesus more new or more Jew? 3) Who is Jesus?
WHAT DOES THIS BOOK SAY?
First, what does this book say? When you read Matthew's Gospel, which took me two hours to read aloud, you encounter many familiar things. You find the Golden Rule and the Lord's Prayer, the Sermon on the Mount and the Great Commission, the baby Jesus and Peter's declaration that Jesus is the Christ. You find Jesus' teaching on the church, discipline, and divorce.
Matthew presents Jesus' ministry in seven sections. The first four chapters provide an introduction. They include a genealogy and an account of Jesus' infancy, his baptism, and his preparation for ministry. The three concluding chapters in Matthew, chapters 26 to 28, recount his suffering, his death on the cross, and his resurrection.
The great bulk of the book is the middle section, chapters 5 though 25, which comprises the body of Jesus' ministry. These middle chapters easily divide into five sections. Each of these sections begins with a long teaching block, followed by narrative. Matthew is the only Gospel with this structure. We get the longest sermons of Jesus in this book.
Let me take you through those five sections. The first covers chapters 5-, and comprises the Sermon on the Mount and accounts of a number of Jesus' healings. In this first section, Matthew appears to be establishing Jesus' authority as a teacher and healer. Jesus is someone we are supposed to hear, trust, and obey.
Chapters 10-make up the second section, which shows a rising opposition to Jesus' ministry. In chapter 10 Jesus prepares his disciples for this opposition, some of which they experience in chapters 11 and 12. This section is helpful for the Christian who is experiencing opposition to his or her faith.
From chapter 13 through the middle of chapter 16, this opposition leads to the formation of two camps--those who are beginning to see that Jesus is the Christ, as Peter acknowledges, and those who do not. Jesus teaches in the block of parables in chapter 13 that a polarization happens when the kingdom of heaven comes. This polarization is then acted out in the remaining chapters. This section is helpful for reorienting us outward for evangelism. God has a concern that is going to push us out even amid people who may disagree with us about who Jesus is.
The fourth section begins at what people say is the turning point in the Gospel. The hinge of Matthew is Peter's confession of Jesus as the Messiah, which ends the previous section. We then read,
From that time on, Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life (16:21).
In the rest of chapter 16 and then throughout chapters 17 and 18, Jesus teaches about discipleship, corrects misunderstandings, and shows his disciples how to live together. The block of parables in chapter 18 does this by teaching about the church. Jesus answers questions like, How are we to deal with sin in the church? How are we to forgive one another? It is almost as if Jesus, seeing the opposition in chapters 10-and the division into two camps in 13 to 16, now turns and directly instructs those who have decided to follow him. This section is helpful for dealing with wrong expectations in the church.
Then there is the final, large section of Matthew's Gospel--chapters 19 to 25--that focuses on judgment. The conflict grows as the opposition to Jesus intensifies in the first half of the section, and then Jesus' promise of judgment upon Israel for rejecting the Messiah becomes obvious in a long teaching section in the second half. Here it is clear that God will judge the leaders of the people, the temple will be destroyed, and, according to Jesus' parables in chapter 25, everybody will finally be judged by God. Those words can be more difficult to hear, but they are also helpful, especially when we as Christians feel discouraged, thinking that God will never win. He doesn't seem to be winning in our life, or in the world around us. This section is a reminder from Jesus that God intends to bring the whole world into judgment. It is helpful for encouraging us even when we see no ground for hope.
There you have the five main sections in the middle: Jesus' authority in 5-, opposition to him in 10-, polarization concerning him in 13-, teaching about discipleship in 16-, and a promise of judgment on those who reject him in 19-. Add the introductory chapters 1-about his birth and beginning of his ministry, and the concluding chapters 26-about his arrest, trial, suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection, and you have the story of Jesus as presented by Matthew.
All of it is laid out to bring us to the core of Matthew's message, and the core of our concern for understanding who Jesus is. Which brings us to our second question.
WAS JESUS MORE NEW OR MORE JEW?
Jesus the New
With all this opposition from the Jewish leadership, including their final rejection of him and his rejection of them, was Jesus more new or more Jew? Stepping back and looking at the whole of Matthew's Gospel, we find the tremendous story of a teacher and preacher, a rabbi, a faithful Jew, and one who knew the Old Testament and was certain it would be fulfilled in his ministry. As he taught and performed miracles, his mission caught the imagination of the Hebrew people, and they began calling him by titles close to their hearts--Son of Man, Son of David, Messiah, the Christ. This figure was not so much the founder of a new religion as he was the inheritor and interpreter of a deep, ancient stream of God's special revelation of himself to his special people.
Not that there was nothingnew about Jesus and his ministry. Whole books have been written about what was new in the ministry of Jesus. My own Bible has a table of contrasts between the Old and New Testaments (it does not provide a table of continuities!). Certainly there is a lot of newness in Matthew. Jesus talked about new wine, new wine skins, and new treasures. In Matthew 24, Jesus taught that the temple, the gigantic building in which he was standing, was going to be destroyed. This destruction would have huge implications. Think about how the Judaism of the time would be rearranged. Animal sacrifices would end. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus described his own body as the temple, and said that he would die as the ransom for the sins of many. The vision Jesus presented was one of considerable change.
The replacement of the temple had other implications, including the end of the priesthood and a decline in the significance of the earthly city of Jerusalem. Matthew, like the other three Gospel writers, shows that Jesus worked to include people from all nations, not just Israel. This is clear from the Gospel's beginning, when Gentile wise men came to worship him, to the Gospel's end, when Jesus instructed his disciples to "go and make disciples of all nations." The good news Jesus brought and proclaimed was meant for all nations. His mission had a global reach. While we will look at this more clearly in Luke's Gospel, only Matthew contains the statement that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [ethnic Israel] and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (21:43). Only Matthew uses the parable of the sheep and the goats to picture a universal judgment. And only Matthew records this final call of Jesus to preach the gospel to all ethne,all nations.
Jesus the Jew
Yet having said all this, we notice from the first sentence of Matthew's Gospel how Jewish this Jesus was. You can hear the plaintive, haunting note of the shofar,the ram's horn, blowing as you read, "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham" (1:1). Mark does not begin with a sentence like this, nor does Luke or John.
Matthew is the most Jewish of the Gospels. It was written in the first century A. D., a formative time for Judaism. After the destruction of the temple in A. D. 70, the ancient religion of Judaism was bound to change. In fact, only two main branches of Judaism survived after the Roman invasion and destruction--Rabbinic Judaism, which directly descended from the Pharisees of the New Testament Gospels, and Jewish Christianity. A century earlier, before the time of Jesus, there were many variations of Judaism. And Matthew's Gospel appears to have been written at a time when the break either loomed just ahead or had just happened. Issues of what it meant to be Jewish were both critical and problematic for those who followed Jesus. So it is no surprise that Jesus taught and Matthew recorded much about the Jews' reaction to Jesus during his ministry.
Some of those reactions were quite severe. For example, toward the end of Matthew we find what has been called the most anti-Semitic statement in the New Testament. Jesus had been handed over to the Roman governor Pilate, who was trying to find a way to let him off because he did not find anything wrong with Jesus. He certainly did not want to kill Jesus. Yet the people yelled back, "'Crucify him!' When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. 'I am innocent of this man's blood,' he said. 'It is your responsibility!' All the people answered, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!'" (27:23b-25). Is retelling this account anti-Semitic? When we hear the conflict recounted in Matthew between Jesus and many Jewish leaders, we can well imagine something like this being said. And if this happened, is it wrong to recount it as history just because it is unpleasant or difficult to read? Shall we not have any books on slavery or the Holocaust? Matthew is honest about the conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leaders.
Matthew makes it clear that Jesus taught new things. But he shows that Jesus was not simply about something new. This Gospel is full of references to Old Testament Scriptures that were being fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. We read that the virgin birth of Jesus was predicted in the Old Testament (1:22-23), as was the flight from Egypt (2:15), the slaughter of the Innocents (2:17-18), the fact that Jesus was from Nazareth (2:23), and his ministry in Galilee (4:13-16). His healings fulfilled prophecy (8:16-17), as did the fact that he did not talk much about his healings publicly (12:15-21). The people's lack of understanding was predicted (13:14), as was the fact that Jesus taught in parables (13:34-35). Jesus' riding a donkey's colt was predicted (21:4-5). Jesus also taught that his arrest and suffering had to happen so that "the Scriptures be fulfilled" (26:54) and so that "the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled" (26:56). We find that even Judas's betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver had been predicted (27:9).
Many more Old Testament prophecies are mentioned both in this Gospel and in the others. The Old Testament came to fulfillment in the ministry of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that he had come to fulfill the whole of the Law and the Prophets (5:17). Jesus was not an innovator, but the answer. He was not an inventor, but the fulfillment.
In Matthew, Jesus presents himself as the key to understanding the Old Testament Scriptures. If you were to rip your Bible in half and take away the Old Testament and read it, Jesus would say to you, "You won't understand that book without me. It all serves as a pointer to me." He is the authoritative interpreter of Israel's religious writings and traditions. He explains them. From Genesis to Malachi, from teaching on marriage and divorce to the Ten Commandments and love, Jesus quotes the Old Testament and tells us what it means.
Sometimes people see Jesus' conflict with the Jewish leaders and say, "Wow, he went in there and smashed up Judaism!" Well, no, Jesus restored Judaism to its full glory. He displayed why the Law, the Prophets, the temple, and its customs were there--for the glory of God through the display of God's holiness, the conviction of human sin, and the provision of mercy in the form of a sacrifice. Ultimately, it all points to Christ who is holy God, perfect man, and merciful sacrifice. Indeed, beginning with his forty days and nights in the wilderness--mirroring Israel's forty-year Exodus wanderings--Jesus displays himself as the obedient and true Israel throughout his ministry. He is the obedient son that Jacob was supposed to be but never was.
But to finally settle the question of whether Jesus is more new or more Jew, we have to turn to our third question.
WHO IS JESUS?
Jesus and Old Testament Figures
Who is Jesus? Jesus' ministry is deeply rooted in the history and life of the nation of Israel. We see a glimmer of Old Testament figures in Jesus' ministry, as if those figures lived and ruled and prophesied for the purpose of helping us understand Jesus more than they lived for themselves or their own times! In Jesus we see the fruition of the lives of these great men of the Old Testament.
We see Abraham, dimly in the background. He shows up first in Matthew's opening genealogy: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham." He is treated as the progenitor of the faith in chapters 3 and 8, and Jesus invokes God's own name in relation to his covenant with Abraham in chapter 22: "I am the God of Abraham..." (22:32). The faith that began with God's call to Abraham is brought to culmination in Jesus.
Even more clearly, the figure of Moses looms across Matthew's picture of Jesus. In 8:4, Jesus enjoined obedience to the commands given through Moses. Moses stood with Elijah at the Transfiguration, signifying the Law and the Prophets' testimony to Jesus. Moses' teaching was Christ's reference point for discussing with the Pharisees everything from divorce to the resurrection. And many subtle parallels to the life of Moses are scattered throughout the Gospel: miracles surrounding Jesus' infancy; turmoil with the ruler of the land; a massacre of male babies his age; his journey to and from Egypt; and his forty-day sojourn in the wilderness. Jesus even begins his teaching ministry on a "Mount," subtly reminding readers of another mountain--Mount Sinai. Some have seen a parallel between the five teaching sections we have noted and the five Old Testament books of the Law. Whether Matthew intended to make this parallel or not, I do not know. But certainly Matthew intends to present Jesus as the new Moses, because Jesus appears to have understood himself as the new Lawgiver for Israel.
[Footnote 3: Matt. 19:7-8 and 22:24; cf. 23:2. ]
Beside Abraham and Moses is one other Old Testament figure: David. David was the planner of the temple, the greatest king, and the psalmist who probably wrote more of the Old Testament than anyone except Moses. Perhaps more than anyone else from the Old Testament, David prefigures Jesus in Matthew's Gospel.
One interesting feature of the Gospel is the frequent occurrence of statements of comparison, statements that quickly refute any notion that Jesus was just a humble moral teacher. He was not. Matthew writes,
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread--which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here" (12:1-6).
Well, that last comparison would have gotten the attention of Jesus' Jewish audience. It is unclear how exactly the Greek pronoun for "one" (in the phrase "one greater than the temple") should be translated into English, whether as "one" or as "someone." But it is very clear in the narrative to whom Jesus was referring: he was referring to himself. Here is a first-century Jew referring to himself as greater than the temple!
Yet he was not done. A few lines later we read,
Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you."
He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here" (12:38-41).
Again it is clear to whom he was referring with this comparison: himself. He was describing himself as greater than the prophet Jonah.
And in the next verse, we read, "The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here" (12:42). Again, Jesus was referring to himself in comparison with King Solomon.
Jesus presented himself as greater than the temple, greater than the prophet Jonah, and greater than King Solomon. He was the priest, prophet, and king. Matthew's message about Jesus is no more than Jesus' own message--Jesus is the priest to end all priests, the prophet to end all prophets, and the king who will one day end all other kings. These others are mere foreshadows of him.
Jesus as Son of David
This is why Jesus is referred to as "Son of David." We have seen how the Gospel begins: "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David." Several lines later, the angel of the Lord addresses Jesus' earthly father as "Joseph son of David" (1:20), because the Messiah was supposed to be of the line of David.
It is interesting to notice who recognized Jesus as the Son of David and called him by this name. In chapter 9, two blind men shouted out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David" (9:27). When Jesus healed a blind, mute man in chapter 12, the people were astonished and asked each other, "Could this be the Son of David?" (12:23). In chapter 15, a Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter cried out, "Son of David" (15:22). Another two blind men called out to Jesus as "Son of David" in 20:30-31. And in chapter 21 the crowds greeted Jesus at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem with "Hosanna to the Son of David" (21:9). Evidently, in 21:15, the chief priests and teachers of the law became alarmed when children began shouting these words.
And there is this interesting exchange:
While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, "What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?"
"The son of David," they replied.
He said to them, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'? For he says,
"The Lord said to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand until I etyour enemies under your feet."'
If then David calls him 'Lordtx1117; how can he be his son?" (22:41-45).
This is one of the most frequently quoted passages from the Old Testament in the New, and Jesus used it often to explain his ministry to people.
How do we understand this quotation? Jesus was quoting Psalm 110:1, where David wrote, "The LORD said to my Lord..." Since David calls someone "my Lord" who was not Yahweh, Jesus understood that David knew the Messiah would be one of his descendants. Yet David would not normally refer to a descendant as greater than himself with a title like "My Lord." David knew--and Jesus knew--that David's son would be greater than he was.
The people understood that Jesus was something more. Those who called out to Jesus as "Son of David" often did so in connection with healing. In Matthew 12:22-23 they wondered if he was the Son of David explicitly on the basis of his miraculous healings. And in 15:31 we read, "The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel." These types of miracles were associated with the great day to come, which the Israelites hoped for. And they were seeing it! So they began to wonder, is this the one?
Another shepherd had arisen in Israel, one even greater than David, or as the hymn says, "Great David's greater son." Matthew says of Jesus at one point, "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36). This Son of David was compassionate and caring. In a surprising fulfillment of David's great psalm, "The Lord is my Shepherd," Peter finally realized that this shepherd he had come to know was in fact the Messiah: "You are the Christ" (16:16).
Jesus as Messiah
Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is the Christ (the Greek word for Messiah). Four times in the first chapter he uses this title for Jesus, indicating that he is the Anointed One for whom the people of God have waited long (1:1, 16, 17, 18). The rest of the Gospel continues this theme. When the Magi came looking for the king of the Jews in chapter 2, Herod knew they were looking for "the Christ."
The first person Matthew quotes to give voice to this title in Jesus' adult ministry is the imprisoned John the Baptist: "When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" (11:2-3). John clearly knew that Jesus was special, indeed, that he was the Lamb of God. We know that from the account of his baptism of Jesus. It seems that John knew the Messiah so well from the Old Testament that he expected the Messiah's ministry to look like Jesus' ministry. Yet it seems he only half-recognized Jesus as the Messiah because of Christ's teaching, preaching, and healing. Perhaps this partly explains why Jesus called John the greatest of the prophets but the least in the kingdom of God (11:11). God had not yet revealed to anyone that Jesus was the Messiah. That happened in chapter 16 with Peter. Nor had God yet given the Spirit-filled baptism of the resurrected and seated Messiah. That began to happen in Acts 2. Yet through the grace he had been given, John the Baptist so knew the Old Testament he could dimly perceive the Messiah in Jesus.
Then, of course, Matthew records in Peter's mouth the words that everyone agrees provide the hinge of Matthew's Gospel.
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"
They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." ... Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ (Matt. 16:13-17, 20).
Jesus accepted Peter's statement that he was the Messiah. And Peter understood that Jesus was more than David's son and Messiah--he was the Son of the living God. This was what the Pharisees did not understand when confronted with Psalm 110.
Interestingly, the title Messiah, or Christ, is used more sparingly in Matthew than the title Son of David. Behind this is what we call the messianic secret. Throughout the Gospels as here in Matthew 16, we find Jesus telling his disciples and others not to tell people he is the Messiah. The people had a lot of false ideas about the Messiah, mostly thinking of him in his political aspects and little more (e. G., Isa. 9:6-7). They believed this person would come and liberate them from the rule of Rome, but they did not combine the promise of Isaiah 9 with the promise of Isaiah 53. The king would also be a suffering servant, bearing the sins of his people. Other sections of prophecy were also ignored. Not wanting them to be confused by the word, Jesus did not use the title very much. But Jesus pulled these different prophecies together in his person--king and servant--as the true Messiah.
During Jesus' trial, the high priest told him, "'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God'" (Matt. 26:63). And his response was not received well: "Then they [the chief priests] spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, 'Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?'" (26:67-68). Clearly, the Jewish leadership understood who Jesus was presenting himself to be. Pilate too, though more disinterestedly, referred to Jesus by this title, almost as if to avoid unnecessarily offending frenzied partisans of Jesus who might be lurking about, a bit like addressing a deranged person as "Zerco, Lord of the universe" because the individual refers to himself that way. Or maybe that is too cynical. Maybe Pilate saw something in Jesus as well. If so, he only becomes more culpable. Matthew writes, "So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, 'Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?'" (27:17). Then in verse 22, "'What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?' Pilate asked. They all answered, 'Crucify him!'"
The irony is almost unimaginable--the people asked their oppressors to kill the one who had come to liberate them more fully than they could ever imagine.
So Matthew and the Magi, John the Baptist and Peter, the priests and Pilate all gave some recognition that Jesus was or claimed to be the Messiah. But did Jesus call himself the Messiah? The answer is a clear yes. In chapter 16, he basi-cally admitted it to his disciples after Peter's confession: "Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ" (16:20). And in chapter 22, Jesus asked the Pharisees whose son the Christ would be. "'The son of David,' they replied" (22:42). They understood something about his human descent, but they did not see that he was something more. So Jesus took them to Psalm 110:1 to show them the truth about the Messiah.
Jesus also taught that there is only one true Messiah: "Nor are you to be called 'teacher,' for you have one Teacher, the Christ" (23:10). False messiahs would abound: "For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ' and will deceive many" (24:5). And again, "At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it" (24:23). Finally, when the high priest directly asked Jesus, "'I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,'" Jesus answered clearly and unambiguously, "'Yes, it is as you say'" (26:63-64).
Jesus of Nazareth taught that he was the Christ, the Messiah. He knew he was the one who God had promised would fulfill his age-old plan to have a people for himself.
People's Response to Jesus
Not that everyone understood that, or does today!
One of the most interesting parts of these Gospels, and one thing that inspires our confidence in them, is their honesty with details that are not very neat. Consider how slowly the disciples came to belief. Small-in-faith Peter sunk into the Sea of Galilee (14:30). A group of the disciples unwittingly threatened to bog Jesus down with the worry that "the Pharisees were offended" by his teaching (15:12). Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, and then told this Messiah his plans were wrong (16:22). The disciples failed to heal an epileptic boy for lack of belief (17:16-17). I could go on, but the point is clear. The disciples--who had become the leaders of the church by the time Matthew wrote this account--were faith-midgets during the ministry of Jesus. They did not seem to understand him.
Who did understand Jesus? A strange assortment of people.
In chapter 11 Jesus prayed, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure" (11:25).
There were only two people in Matthew's Gospel whose faith evoked a positive reaction--even astonishment--from Jesus: a Roman centurion and a Canaanite woman, representing two groups with whom the Jews were at particular enmity. The centurion said to Jesus,
"Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it" (8:8-9).
Jesus was astonished at how well this Roman occupier understood Jesus' own authority. He also praised the Canaanite woman, whom he first rebuffed by calling her a dog--to which she replied, "'Yes, Lord, ... but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table'" (15:27). Both of these Gentiles accepted without question Jesus' authority and mission as he defined it. And they were certain he could meet their need because they saw him for who he really was: one who had authority over all and a concern for all.
Rightly, then, we find people worshiping Jesus throughout this Gospel. The Magi worshiped him at the beginning (2:2-11). Jesus told Satan that God alone is to be worshiped (4:10) and then he accepted worship three times: from the disciples in the boat who had seen him walk on water (14:33), from the woman at the tomb after his resurrection (28:9), and from the disciples who saw the resurrected Jesus (28:17). "But," the always-honest Matthew writes, "some doubted."
The message of Matthew is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of David, and the long-predicted Messiah.
In the last twenty-five years, there has been a scientific theory gaining ground called the "anthropic principle" (after anthropos,the Greek word for man). Named at a conference in 1973 by Cambridge astrophysicist Brandon Carter, this principle says that "the seemingly unrelated constants in physics have one strange thing in common--these are precisely the values you need if you want to have a universe capable of producing life. In essence, the anthropic principle came down to the observation that all the myriad laws of physics were fine-tuned from the very beginning of the universe for the creation of man--that the universe we inhabit appeared to be expressly designed for the emergence of human beings." This is not coming from a Christian group or even individual scientists who are Christians; increasingly it is coming from nonbelieving scientists. A good book on this is Patrick Glynn's God: The Evidence,particularly the first chapter. The "anthropic principle" relates to phenomena such as the exact strength of gravity, the nuclear force, the difference in mass between a proton and a neutron, and how all of these attributes are necessary for a world like ours to exist and, particularly, for human life to exist. Scientists give striking examples of how the slightest change of some force in the universe would make everyone flat or make stars explode or otherwise make life unsustainable. Everything is here for a purpose, it seems, from the synthesis of carbon to the weight of ice versus water.
[Footnote 4: Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World (Rocklin, Calif.: Forum, 1997), 22-23. ]
[Footnote 5: Ibid. ]
For Christians, of course, the existence of such an intelligent, purposeful designer comes as no surprise. It is his work we perceive not just in chemistry, biology, physics, and astronomy but also in history. We think there is an anthropic principle at work through history too. Through history, God has worked purposely in Israel. He had a purpose in calling Israel, and he sovereignly disposed her history to that end. According to Jesus, that end was Jesus himself. Abraham and Moses, David and Solomon, Jonah and Elijah, John the Baptist and even Judas were all there for him.
And why is he here? Why did Christ come? For us!
This message is clear in Matthew. Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. And if you want one verse for practical application, do not take a verse on mercy or humility. Consider why Jesus said he came: "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (20:28).
Matthew teaches that you and I have sinned. We have separated ourselves from God. And now we are under his just judgment. Every single one of us. But Christ has come in love to take the punishment for our sins on himself and to rise in victory over death. And then he has come to us, calling us to repent and believe, to trust in him, to turn from our sins, and to have a new life in him.
You cannot understand Jesus finally without understanding something of yourself. In chapter 9 of his Gospel, Matthew recounts his own calling by Jesus, and the celebration dinner he threw for his tax collector friends and Jesus:
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (9:10-12, 13b).
What a beautifully economical, self-interpreting response! A person's heart is revealed through the person's ears, how he or she hears--just as your response to this sermon is revealing something about you right now, about what you love or long for, about what bores you or simply does not concern you.
Jesus is so straightforward and unaffected in this passage. "The sick," he says. "Sinners," he says. That is whom the doctor comes for. Righteous, healthy people are not his immediate concern. If you think you are pretty righ-teous and healthy before God, then in a funny way you are not his immediate concern. No, Jesus has come for the sinners.
Who were the sinners in the room that day? Were they only those tax collectors?
I wonder, when Jesus said to the Pharisees, "It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick ... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners," did these Pharisees consider, just for a moment, that theymight be sick, that theymight be sinners? Or did they simply think, "Good answer, Rabbi. Those people are pretty bad off," and walk away self-satisfied?
I wonder about us: Are you among the sinners? Are you among the sick? Are you among the spiritually needy?
I promise you this. You will finally realize who Jesus is only when you realize who you are. You will understand his fullness only when you come to see your own need.
Let us pray:
Lord God, we praise you for your love shown by coming and taking on our frail flesh. By suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane. By agreeing to death, even death on a cross, to be the ransom for us. We praise you as the one who so loves the church that you laid down your life for her. O God, we pray that your Holy Spirit would require our hearts to give up ourselves to you in worship. For Jesus' sake. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
1. Why does the New Testament present four different accounts of the life of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John)? This chapter mentions a few possible answers. Find them and then reflect further on your own.
2. What are some of the ways people today characterize who Jesus is? On what authority do they typically base their opinions?
3. Who do you say Jesus Christ is?
4. If you belong to a church, who does your church teach Jesus Christ is? How often and in what ways does it teach this? If someone who has never heard of Christianity spent a Sunday at your church, would they be able to say who Jesus is? If you are an ordinary (non-staff) member of a congregation, what role do you see yourself playing within your church (reading Galatians 1:6-9 might help you answer this last question)?
5. According to the Gospel of Matthew, can we just rip our Bibles in half and walk away with just the New Testament in our hands? Why not?
6. Matthew clearly emphasizes the Jewish heritage of Jesus Christ and, we might say, of Christianity generally. Abraham, Moses, and David all point to Jesus! Why did God not simply begin the Bible with Jesus, or even place him shortly after the Fall? What did God use all of this history to teach us about himself? About ourselves? How does Jesus Christ then completeor fulfillwhat we can learn about God and ourselves from the Old Testament?
7. Matthew also teaches that Jesus fulfills the Old Testament role of prophet (who brings God's word to God's people), priest (who intercedes before God on behalf of God's people), and king (who exercises God's rule over God's peo-ple). How does Jesus fulfill the role of prophet? Priest? King?
8. We have seen that Matthew paints the deeply ironic picture of the Jewish people asking their oppressors to kill the very one who came to liberate, or free, them more fully than they could ever imagine. What did Jesus really come to liberate them from? What liberation do we all ultimately need?
9. What are some other areas of life in which we seek liberation, or freedom? How can these ambitions deceive us from recognizing the true liberation that we need?
10. Did Peter and the disciples understand right away who Jesus was? What does this teach us about the growth of faith in individuals' lives? What implications does this have for how we disciple others, whether our own children or other members of our church?
+ Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.... I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt. 9:10-12, 13b). Do you perceive yourself as among the spiritually sick? How does this show itself in how you interact with your family? With members of your church? With nonChristians?