Welcome to the New Testament – you’ll notice that from now on I’m on less solid ground as my first love is the OT, but I’ll have a go.
The NT begins with four gospels, accounts of the life and death of Jesus seen from four different viewpoints. I once asked four members of a homegroup to describe the Sunday morning service at which we had all been a few days earlier. As you might imagine the accounts were very different, to the point of wondering whether we had all been at the same service! A musician told us what songs we had sung; a parent told about what the children and been up to; someone else described the sermon in some detail but hadn’t much to say about anything else. It isn’t that the people were being deliberately dishonest, or trying to rewrite history: they just genuinely saw it differently. Whenever we read the gospels we are hearing accounts written from a particular point of view, with different audiences in mind and different areas of interest. By reading all four gospels we are helped to build up a rounded picture of who Jesus was and what he did. It might not also be stretching things too far to see in the gospels different Myers-Briggs personality types. So where is Matthew coming from, and what does he tell us?
Matthew has a distinctly Jewish flavour. It is clearly intended for Jewish readers: it does not explain Jewish terms or customs (compare with Mark), it is constantly looking for fulfilments of OT texts, and uses the term ‘Kingdom of heaven’ rather than ‘of God’ since saying the divine name was forbidden to Jews, as the Monty Python boys so eloquently illustrated for us. The boring bits in chapter 1 make sure that we understand Jesus’ descent from the OT worthies. There is a pattern of fives in the book, perhaps based on the five books of the Torah, with alternate slices of teaching and action. And there is much made of Jesus’ relationship with the OT Law, as he comes to make it both less and more demanding.
There is also a sense that Matthew is highly critical of the Jewish leaders and theologians, as he writes up Jesus’ condemnation of them with seeming relish. His is a gospel for the dominant ‘T’s, and his Jesus is a teacher with a very black and white outlook, and he teaches what it means to live in the direction of the Kingdom of God, which all good Jews were expecting as a future state. He lives in fulfilment of the OT, he dies as a sacrifice for sins, and he rises to take his place of total authority. Matthew’s burning desire is that his Jewish countrymen should understand that all they have been living for is to be fulfilled and completed in Jesus, and that they should recognise him to be the Messiah for whom they were longing and hoping.
Next week we’ll see, by complete contrast, how Mark tells the same story.