BLOG: NEW TESTAMENT
As I embark on further writing I remind you that this will not be a comprehensive coverage, anymore than were my Old Testament blogs. Rather I have selected some issues which have occurred to me as I have re-read each book of the New Testament.
MATTHEW Part 1.
Matthew and Prophecy.
I suppose we should not be surprised that this very Jewish Gospel appeals to Old Testament prophecy as a confirmation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. However, the way Matthew does it may not have passed muster in the Bible College that I attended!
“And so was fulfilled by the prophet…,” “Then what was said through the prophet xyz was fulfilled…,” “to fulfil what was said…,” and “This is the one about whom it is written…,” are some of the ways that Matthew introduces quotes, which in some instances are a challenge for the reader trying to make the connection with Jesus, while other quotes seem to have nothing to do with him at all, and in one notable case the quote cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament (2:23). Did Matthew get it wrong?
Well, I don’t think so. What he appears to be doing is using typology. Something Jesus said or did reminds Matthew of something that happened in the Old Testament. Sometimes it may be a combination of thoughts and at others a prophecy that seemed to Matthew to have a greater fulfilment in Jesus Christ. If we believe that Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of the Old Testament promises then we can readily see how Matthew would pick up former similar events and statements and invest them with new significance. And as you spend some time thinking about them, they start to become clear and surprisingly illuminating.
Matthew and the Kingdom of Heaven.
When I was young, I thought of the Kingdom of Heaven as just another way of saying “Heaven” – but of course it is more than that. It is where God reigns and it is seen particularly in those who submit to his kingship, where following and obeying the King go together. It is also the subject of Jesus’ teaching…
“Repent. The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.” 4:17
“Come, follow me.” 4:19
Jesus’ teaching, proclamation and healing miracles (4:23) demonstrate that the Kingdom of Heaven has come, in Jesus Christ himself.
The Sermon on the Mount, then, in chapters 5-7, are an exposition of what it looks like to be a citizen of God’s Kingdom – the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Beatitudes (Blessed are the ….) are bracketed by, “…theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Both the hardships and the blessings described are all applicable to the citizens of the Kingdom.
Citizens of God’s Kingdom are to be salt and light. They are to settle matters and refrain from maligning others. They are to refrain from lust and divorce (the breaking of relationship and promises). They are to speak the truth, all the time. They are to turn the other cheek, to break the cycle of revenge and be ready to give even to those who place hardships upon them. In fact they are to love their enemies!
And that’s just chapter five!
Then in chapter six the citizens of the Kingdom are to do good things without seeking recognition and praise because, while they are anchored on earth, their focus and destination is Heaven. They work for the things which are of eternal worth. That is why they can walk through this life, seeking God’s will and free from crippling worry, in the knowledge that their Father already knows their needs.
So when we read in chapter 7, “Ask and you will receive,” the context there is not about getting anything and everything we ask for, but rather about seeking to be the sort of people described in the whole Sermon on the Mount. “Help me, God, not to be judgemental. Help me to trust you and to clean up my act, to live rightly, to love my neighbour and to be faithful to you and to others.”
In 7:21-23 Jesus proclaims that it is not enough to just say the words (“Lord, Lord”). You must really mean them. You can’t say, “Lord” and then disobey him. “No” and “Lord” make no sense in same sentence, when Jesus calls us to follow him. It’s our actions which will reveal what we really mean and believe!
There are people who criticise Christianity as a dangerous and corrupting influence. Imagine though how much better this world would be if we all followed Jesus’ teaching in these chapters.
MATTHEW Part 2
Jesus and Healing
We start to see the range of Jesus’ healing miracles in chapter eight. Matthew seems to be confirming again that Jesus not only bears the authority of God’s Kingdom but that he also fulfils the Old Testament prophets, with a quote from Isaiah, “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.” The two references to the demon-possessed further show that God’s Kingdom triumphs over Satan’s – and that has to be good news even today, for Christians, but a warning to those who would dabble in witchcraft, the psychic realm, and satanism. The miracles, including the calming of the storm elicit amazement, but also, in chapter 9, praise to God, which is always the appropriate response!
The Centurion and the Gentiles
Jesus’ affirmation of the Centurion’s faith, expressed in his belief that Jesus only need say the word for his servant to be healed, is also an affirmation the faith, even strong faith, existing beyond the descendants of Israel. “Many will come from East and West” anticipates Gentiles becoming “children of Abraham,” the People of God. Jesus also warns, that those who think they are safe in the Kingdom, as biological descendants, may well find themselves excluded. Faith, trust in Jesus Christ, is what counts – the very point that Paul makes in his letter to the Romans (eg. chapter 4). This reference to the expansion of the Kingdom to the Gentiles anticipates the Great Commission at the end of Matthew – “Go into all the world…”
The Sinners are Sick
There’s a common misconception that Jesus just accepted anyone and everyone, no matter what. Certainly, Jesus mixed with anyone and everyone, as Matthew notes in chapter nine. Jesus ate with “tax collectors and sinners.” But we should also note that Jesus cast himself as a doctor coming to heal the sick, not to approve of their sinfulness. The point here is that it is often the worst ‘sinners,’ the “sheep without a shepherd,” who recognise their need and are open to repentance and the healing and forgiveness that Jesus brings. It is the same today. Prisoners, recovering addicts and the poor of this world often seem more likely to reach out and find God’s grace in Jesus Christ, than those entrenched in their own essential goodness.
The Ministry of Jesus
9:35-38 summarises this part of Jesus’ ministry as ‘proclamation’ (of the Kingdom of Heaven), and ‘healing’ (a demonstration of the Kingdom of Heaven). It also summarises the manner in which Jesus ministers – with compassion and as a shepherd. Here is one who not only demonstrates the authority of God, but also truly cares!