How to Read the Bible Book by Book: Matthew
Matthew 28:18-20: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This week I am happy to report that we have made it into the New Testament. After 39 weeks of walking our way, book by book, through the Old Testament, we have now come to the crucial dividing line in our Bibles. By now, if you have been following along, the story of God and Israel should be well established in your mind. From the very beginning pages of our Bible, when human beings disobeyed God and brought a curse upon themselves and the world, we have been waiting in anticipation of how God would reverse this curse. The Gospel of Matthew begins our journey into the completion of that story.
As most of you are aware, there are four Gospel books in the New Testament. Three of them are very similar, and one is quite different. Matthew, Mark and Luke are often known as the synoptic gospels, meaning that they share much of the same content. While John has some overlap with the other three, he tells the story from a very different perspective. Tradition says that the gospel of Matthew was written by the Apostle Matthew himself. In his book, he presents Jesus as the fulfillment of all the great promises of the Old Testament.
Matthew has the most chapters of the any of the four gospels and appears to tell the story of Jesus in the greatest detail. This should not surprise us, being that Matthew was an eyewitness of most of the events that he writes about. But as one reads the book, it is obvious this is more than an eyewitness account. This is a very carefully crafted narrative that shows Jesus as the long-prophesied King of Israel. Matthew will demonstrate how Jesus came preaching the kingdom, how he and his kingdom were rejected by most of Israel, and how the full implications of the kingdom will not be fulfilled until the age to come.
The main content of the book centers on five discourses of Jesus’ teaching, accompanied by stories that surround these blocks of teaching. The book begins in chapters 1 through 3 with the early details of Jesus’ birth and related events, and the book ends in chapters 26 through 28 with an account of Jesus’ suffering and death, followed by his resurrection and the commissioning of his apostles to take the good news to the whole world. But in-between that introduction and ending, you have these five sections of narrative and discourses.
Section one (chapters 4 through 7) begins with a narrative about Jesus’ temptation, and the subsequent beginning of his mission in Galilee, along with the calling of his disciples. The primary teaching discourse of this section is Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.
Section two (chapter 8 through 10) begins with a narrative of eight different miracle stories of Jesus, followed by a discourse when Jesus sends out his disciples on mission. The section serves as an instruction on the church’s mission and what they are to expect. While the power of the Kingdom will be present among them, many will deny the message and will even subject Jesus’ servants to persecution and suffering. Jesus tells them not to be afraid of such realities. Instead, they should love Jesus more than their own life and even their own family.
Section three (11:1-13:52) focuses on narratives that demonstrate opposition to Jesus and his ministry. It becomes clear in this section that Jesus’ primary message of repentance in light of the coming kingdom is not being heeded. A discourse follows this in chapter 13 where a series of parables are told that demonstrate how the kingdom will be rejected by many and only received by a believing remnant. For those who believe, the kingdom will truly be a great and valued treasure.
Section four (13:53-18:35) shows how opposition to Jesus is building. The Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious rulers of the day, now become primary adversaries of Jesus. All of this is building to the final and ultimate rejection of Jesus. The discourse in this section comes in chapter 18 and focuses on the different relationships found within the Messianic community. There is a focus on discipleship, not causing others to sin, and how to deal with sin that does come up in the community.
Finally, section five (19:1-25:46) brings Jesus into Jerusalem and prepares for his impending suffering and death. The narratives of this section continue the opposition to Jesus, now focused on Judea and Jerusalem, and lead into the final few days of Jesus’ life. The primary discourse in this section involves a stinging condemnation of the Pharisees in chapter 23, along with an in-depth teaching on the events that will lead up to the end of the age (chapters 24 and 25).
There is much more to be said about Matthew than this little article can do justice to, but my hope is that this is enough to whet your appetite to go and read this great gospel for yourself.