Sept. 24, 2023
Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church, UCC
We’re studying the Gospels this Fall, in a series entitled, “One Good News, Four Distinct Views.”
Today’s Gospel is the very first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew’s Gospel is the most Jewish of all the gospels.
He’s writing for Jewish Christians.
Matt. 1:1 – “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
Presents Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of David. Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus goes back to Abraham & Sarah. Deals with the issue of OT laws vs Jesus’ teachings. Numerous references to OT prophesy – “This occurred to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet . . .”
Use Kingdom of Heaven (32 times), instead of Kingdom of God. Shows Jewish reverence for God’s name.
Over 130 quotes & references to the OT.
Thus, Matthew’s Gospel is chosen as the first book of the NT, since he bridges the Old and New Covenants.
Genealogy, the Christmas Story (including Wise Men), Jesus’ ministry begins.
5 Discourses/Teachings – parallels 5 books of Moses. Each of these teachings ends with, “Now when Jesus had finished saying these things” (7:28; 19:1; 26:1; 11:1; 13:53).
Holy Week – ¼ of the book tells the story of this one week.
Author Matthew the Tax Collector?
Matthew, son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14), collected taxes in Carpernaum. Jesus called him to follow him in Ch. 9:9-13.
“Matthew collected the sayings of Jesus in the Hebrew tongue.” – Papias (60 AD – 130 AD).
Matthew is one of the “Synoptic Gospels,” along with Mark and Luke. Synoptic means “seeing together.” They record the same events.
Matthew incorporates almost all of Mark into his gospel. (606 vss out of 661)
(But why would an eyewitness need to do this? One possible answer: Mark recorded the events; Matthew recorded the teachings.)
Matthew and Luke also used another source, “Q.”
Date and Place of Writing – unclear, perhaps 65 AD
Special Features of Matthew’s Gospel
The Wise Men – Gentiles come to worship Christ.
The Sermon on the Mount & Lord’s Prayer
Many Parables – Jesus teaches with stories & analogies.
The Two Greatest Commandments – Matt. 22:34-40, Love God & Neighbor
The Great Commission – “Go forth into all the world . . .”
Even though he is writing for a Jewish audience, Matthew is quite hard on the Jewish leadership of his day. “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Scribes and Pharisees” (Matt. 5:20). Ch. 23 – The “7 Woes” against leadership. Likely written during a time of strife between leadership & the Christian sect.
Selected Verses from Matthew 5
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he began to speak and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
13 “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid . . . In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment, and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council, and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Rich comments: these words from Jesus were actually good news for women in the 1st century, for divorce had become commonplace and offered women no protection or provision. The example often cited is that a man could issue a writ of divorce if he didn’t like what his wife had made for dinner!
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you: Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also, 40 and if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give your coat as well, 41 and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the gentiles do the same? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
What I’d like to focus upon this morning is the section of Matthew 5 that Don & I just read.
When it comes to keeping all the Old Testament Laws, we tend conclude that Jesus makes things easier for us. There is freedom in Christ, freedom from legalism. We don’t have all the laws in the Old Testament, as well as all rules and laws that the Scribes and Pharisees added to them. We don’t have eating restrictions, food prep restrictions, hand-washing rituals – although civilized people wash their hands before meals, which was probably the point God was making. We’re not under those restrictions. Jesus didn’t impose them upon us. Jesus wasn’t a legalist, right? In fact, he was accused of being a rule-breaker, a law breaker.
–He healed folks on the sabbath. That was considered working.
–When the disciples were hungry, he allowed them to pick heads of grain on the sabbath. That was considered harvesting/working.
–He hung out with notorious sinners, and even allowed women with perhaps colorful pasts to touch him – to wipe his feet, to anoint him with expensive perfume.
Jesus was a rule-breaker, but we have to understand something very important about the laws he broke.
Over the centuries, the term, “The Law” had various meanings within Judaism. Originally it meant the 10 Commandments, given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Eventually it came also to be used as a term for the first 5 books of the bible – the Law of Moses, the Torah. But by Jesus’ day, the Law was also used, not only to refer to the teachings in the Hebrew Bible, but also to all the additional laws that the Scribes & Pharisees had added to them
For Example, the 4th Commandments says, “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”
Jesus didn’t break this commandment. By healing on the sabbath and allowing his disciples to harvest a little snack along the road, he was breaking a man-made law that came from the Pharisees.
The Scribes and Pharisees had come up with all sorts of rules and regulations regarding the Sabbath –
–how far you could walk on the Sabbath – ½ mile
–how much you could carry on the Sabbath – how much food, how much water, how much are you allowed to write
Jesus broke several of these man-made laws, but he didn’t break any of the 10 Commandments – God’s Law. That’s what he’s referring to when he says, “I haven’t come to abolish the Law & the Prophets, I’ve come to fulfill them. God’s Laws are forever.”
So, Jesus wasn’t a legalist, however, he didn’t come to abolish the laws of God, he came to fulfill them. He came to show their true intentions. And in doing so, he actually makes it harder, doesn’t he? Jesus makes God’s instructions more intense, more demanding. It’s not just our actions that matter to God. It’s also our thoughts, our motivation, what’s in our hearts, what sort of people we’re becoming.
So, it’s not just “Thou shalt not Murder.” It’s now, Don’t even call someone a fool – that’s violent language. (I checked, and there’s no exemption for when you’re driving and someone cuts you off)
It’s not just, “Thou shall not commit Adulterry.” It’s now, “Don’t even look at someone with lust. Don’t even entertain those thoughts.” It’s harder . . . but it’s safer.
It’s not just, “An Eye for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth” That leaves the world Blind & Toothless! It’s now, Turn the other cheek, go the extra mile. Love your enemies and pray for them.
Jesus says, “That’s what I expect of my followers, because that was God’s intention in giving those commands. And then he adds, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The word perfect there means, “Fully Grown, Fully Mature.”
Do you see my point though?
Jesus goes to God’s original intent, and in doing so he makes it harder than just following the commandments, but he makes it more genuine.
Let me use an illustration I’ve used before. Imagine that I bring home flowers for Alisa, unexpectantly. It’s not her birthday or our anniversary. I just bring them spontaneously. And she’s surprised and feels very much loved. But then I say, “Well, I thought it was my duty to get them. Rule #17 in the Husband’s Guide to Marriage says to surprise your wife twice a year with flowers on no special occasion. So this fulfills the first of those. You can expect the 2nd one before the end of the year, but you’re supposed to be surprised.
Does she even want the flowers now? (Maybe only to shove them in my face!) No, she wants my heart, my love.
Listen, God wants our hearts, too. God wants our love. God wants more than us just doing our duty. As Matthew records in Ch. 22 – The greatest of all the commands is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.”
A Closing Thought . . .
These teachings are so hard that they should drive us to prayer. Jesus speaks to that when he says, “Love your enemies, pray for them.”
These habits of the heart and mind – capturing our thoughts, being careful and vigilant with our words, controlling our anger when wronged, keeping our promises, maintaining faithfulness in actions and thoughts, eradicating our desire for revenge, going the extra mile – all these things are so hard that we can only do them with God’s help! We can only do them with Christ’s spirit living inside us.
This chapter should come with a warning – “Warning: Do not attempt these things on your own. Seek help from above.”
The Apostle Paul once said this: The Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. (Gal. 3:24)
These challenging teachings should also lead us straight to the Great Teacher Jesus, for it is only by his Spirit that we can live them out. “Christ in you, the hope of glory!”
My favorite way to read the Bible is to read until I find something that I can pray about.
I read until I find something to pray into my life. This chapter provides exactly that.
So, please . . . pray about it!
Commission and Benediction:
There’s a saying you’ve probably heard.
It’s usually attributed to Lao Tzu – “Lao-Tease” (Chinese Phil)
Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become your character.
And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
What we think, we become.