Introduction to Matthew

The book of Matthew is the first of the four Gospels in the New Testament, telling the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection.  Matthew is known as one of the three “Synoptic Gospels,” along with Mark and Luke, because of its agreement with Mark and Luke in timeline and content.  As we read through each of these books though you will notice that each one of them has a bit of a different point of view, in the same way that different people experiencing the same event would describe it with slight differences.  For the Gospels, these differences arise from the different purposes for writing as well as the audience that is being written to as you can see below.

 

As you can see from these two images while each of the authors wrote about Jesus, each Gospel has a bit of a different theme and direction to it.  Yet each of theme communicates the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Matthew’s theme is derived from the specific audience he is writing to.  Because Matthew is working to show the Jewish people that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the promised King from the line of David.  Matthew begins with a genealogy that proves Jesus’ lineage, being from the house of David, and uses phrases that would have been familiar to the Jews like “the Kingdom of Heaven” or “Son of David.”  He also uses the phrases like “to fulfill all righteousness” or other references to fulfilling Old Testament Scripture.

This does not, however, mean that Matthew restricted his writing to only Jews.  Many times it is recorded in his Gospel the outward trajectory of the Jesus from Jews to Gentiles, culminating in the Great Commission, Jesus’ parting words after His resurrection.



Day 292: Mark 7-9; Transfiguration

Today we read about the ministry that Jesus continues to do as He moves from Galilee to other parts of the region of Canaan as He begins to make His way towards Jerusalem.  There are a lot of familiar narratives that take place in today’s reading, much of which we read in the Gospel of Matthew and will read again in the Gospel of Luke.  There is a noticeable shift in Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel of Mark over that of the Gospel of Matthew in that Jesus is interacting with many Gentiles and healing people outside of the Jewish heritage more so than he did in Matthew.  Some people might consider this a discrepancy in the Gospels, but the reality of the matter still has to do with the audience that these writers are writing to.  Matthew’s goal was to show that Jesus was the Messiah that the Jews were waiting for, therefore he focused a great deal on the like and ministry of Jesus with the Jews.  Mark’s purpose of writing was to show the events of Jesus’ life as they pertained to all people, therefore he isn’t so concerned with who Jesus is interacting with as much as He is concerned with the content of the interactions.

In light of the repetitive nature of today’s reading, not that repeating things like this is bad, I would really like to take a moments to talk through something that we didn’t have a chance to talk about in the book of Matthew, that is Jesus transfiguration.  We are presented with a narrative that contains within it images that are similar to those of the prophets and even the book of Revelation.  Jesus, while on the mountain with His three closest disciples, is “transfigured” before them.  This word ‘transfigured’ comes from the Greek word μεταμορφόω (pronounced metamorphoō – from which we get the word metamorphosis) and literally means to undergo a change in physical or external form or a spiritual transformation.  For me, this conjures up images of the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly, something that is rather commonplace turning into something of extraordinary beauty.  Yet the text tells us that this was like nothing they had ever seen before.  Jesus’ clothes were whiter than any garment could be bleached.  John Calvin, in his commentary on the transfiguration says this about what the disciples saw:

“His transfiguration did not altogether enable his disciples to see Christ, as he now is in heaven, but gave them a taste of his boundless glory, such as they were able to comprehend… Thus in ancient times God appeared to the holy fathers, not as He was in Himself, but so far as they could endure the raise of His infinite brightness… There is no necessity for entering here into ingenious inquiries as to the whiteness of his garments, or the brightness of his countenance; for this was not a complete exhibition of the heavenly glory of Christ, but, under symbols which were adapted to the capacity of the flesh, he enabled them to taste in part what could not be fully comprehended.”  -John Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke; Vol. 1.

Every commentary that I have read talks about the Transfiguration as being a very particular revealing of Jesus divinity in a life in which His humanity is often emphasized.  Sometimes I think we forget this contrast, this paradox of Jesus being both completely human and completely divine at the same time.  Calvin points out here that what the disciples are seeing is a “translated” image of the true glory of Jesus, seen in a way that the mortal disciples would be able to comprehend.  God’s true glory is like a completely foreign language to us, so foreign in fact that we have absolutely no way of comprehending it.  In every vision that we see recorded of God, we get a description of human(ish) features and are so much more real, more glorified than we are, and yet this is still just a translation of the true glory and nature of God, something we will never know truly on this earth.  The Transfiguration is an in-breaking of the heavenly, divine aspect of Jesus into this reality.  Jesus divinity is confirmed by the voice of God here, in the same Words that were used at Jesus’ baptism: “This is My Son whom I Love.  Listen to Him!

Some commentaries on this event talk about the significance of Elijah and Moses appearing and talking with Jesus in this time.  Moses and Elijah were two of the greatest figures of the Hebrew Scriptures, both of which were taken away.  There are suggestions that this happens for the disciples benefit, to prove to them that Jesus is not a reincarnation of either one, but is exalted above both of them.  Another suggestion is that Elijah represented the prophets while Moses represented the Law.  Both of these could be true, or at the very least can help to color our reading of this passage.  However, I think that we would be remiss if we thought that those things were more important than what is happening with Jesus in this time.  We are seeing the true Divine, Son of God in the fullness of His glory, or at least what our human minds can understand.  One other thing is very true about this reading in all three Gospels in which it is recorded, from this point on Jesus sets His face towards Jerusalem, to His eventual death, and never looks back.