This week, we get to begin walking through Matthew’s Gospel. As we walk through Matthew’s Gospel, I want to pay particular attention to how much of what he wrote was an exposition of the Old Testament Scripture and how much of Jesus said was itself exposition of His word in the Old Testament. There are a few people who believe that the words spoken directly by Christ in His physical form are of higher importance than the rest of the Scriptures. There are also people who believe that we must “unhitch” from the Old Testament. So, we begin a series as we walk through Matthew’s Gospel called “Red Letters.” In this series, not only will we learn and grow in the message of Matthew’s Gospel, but we will also see whether or not Jesus Christ (and the New Testament author Matthew) believed the Old Testament to be of little or much importance.
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Matthew was a Jew and one of Jesus’ disciples (he would become known as one of the twelve apostles). While he refers to himself as Matthew, both Mark and Luke refer to him as Levi. Both are Hebrew names. Levi meant “joined in harmony” while Matthew meant “gift from God.” His Gospel was written for the Jewish people and he wrote it in order to prove, by expositing the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), that Jesus was the Messiah who had been promised through the Old Testament. Matthew takes the time to explain how Jesus fulfilled all of the Law and prophets (Matthew 5:17). This Gospel was written 30-35 years after Jesus’ crucifixion, and Matthew’s purpose was not to recount the whole life of Christ in chronological order. His purpose was pointed- prove Jesus as the Old Testament Messiah. Everything he writes and the order of his information is meant specifically to accomplish that particular end (Matthew’s conclusion to his own argument is found in Matthew 28:18 as he quotes Jesus Christ).
Matthew used Mark’s Gospel as a source and was used as a source along with Mark’s Gospel and an unknown Gospel account (usually referred to as “Q”) by Luke. Together, we refer to Matthew, Mark, and Luke as the “Synoptics” because they follow the same basic format for the same basic purpose- proving that Jesus of Nazareth is, indeed, the promised Messiah. Mark was a second generation disciple (he was a student of Peter, 1 Peter 5:13). Luke was a gentile who took up the task of researching these things as he wrote to other gentiles concerning Christ. Matthew was a Jew writing primarily to Jews. Each author’s purpose was apologetic. They wanted to prove that Jesus was the Christ.
So, the Synoptics were not written as the memoirs of nostalgic men. They were scholarly accounts. Furthermore, the Synoptics were not written as historical, chronological accounts (though they do tell a story that is historically accurate). They were written as apologetic accounts and so the events are listed in an order that fits the apology, not necessarily in a chronological order. Furthermore, each author includes the details that accomplish the purpose of the apology for their specific intended audience. That is why some details are included in one Gospel while they are omitted in another or why the order of the described events might vary from one Gospel account to another. Context is key.
If Jesus is the Messiah, we might think that it should have been obvious to the Jews. Why did they not recognize that Jesus was the Messiah according to their own Scriptures and why would Matthew need to write this apology? In his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, R. T. France describes the culture of the 1st Century Jews under the rule of Roman Law,
“Culturally, Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence. Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor. Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem… even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as ‘not one of us,’ and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the ‘Messiah,’ a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (c.f. John 7:40-42).”
So, Jesus, being a Galilean, would have been like what we might refer to as a “hillbilly.” Since the Scriptures clearly stated that the Messiah would come from Judea (namely Bethlehem), the people did not even feel a need to consider anyone from the hillbilly country of Galilee, which was on the other side of Samaria from Judea. There was need, then, for an apologetic account concerning Jesus of Nazareth. Voddie Baucham was not the first to come up with the idea of expository apologetics. The Gospel writers employed this method. How could Jesus possibly be the Messiah? How could the most basic prophecies be fulfilled in a Galilean? The arguments against Jesus’ kingship were mounting and Matthew would answer his Jewish countrymen by expositing the Old Testament text.
Considering these things, we need to keep a few thoughts in mind as we walk through Matthew’s Gospel:
- Events are not necessarily described in chronological order.
- Matthew used 1st Century Jewish references and phraseology.
- Matthew was not simply recalling his own experience with Jesus. His work is scholarly.
- Matthew’s Gospel was written as a reasoned defense of Jesus’ role as Messiah, in order to convince the Jewish people.
- As we walk through we ask the question that Matthew was answering for his own countrymen, “Is Jesus really the Messiah?”