A few things to notice as we begin reading the New Testament with the book of Matthew. First is, I’m back… summer was too much for my blogging efforts. I'm now back at it!
Matthew begins with a genealogy that introduces Jesus as next in the line of the faithful fathers of the nation of Israel, Abraham and David. Through their lineage comes Jesus who is called Christ. Christ is the New Testament equivalent to the Old Testament title Messiah, or Anointed One. Jesus is unique. He is the culmination of the faithful ancestry of Israel. He is the one who comes to fulfill God’s promise to Abraham that through Abraham’s offspring all nations on earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The title Messiah means Jesus is perfectly qualified to simultaneously execute three roles no other could: Prophet, Priest, and King.
Matthew also makes sure those who hear his gospel account understand Jesus is the Christ the Scriptures point to and promise as the One who was to come (See 1:23; 2:6,18; 3:3; 4:15-16 where Matthew cites Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophet’s words).
The other thing that becomes obvious as you read any of the gospels, including Matthew, is how fast the narrative progresses. Mathew goes from Jesus' birth to the calling of the disciples to the Sermon on the Mount to stories about Jesus healing people to a series of parables in just a few pages. As you follow the reading plan, it flies by so fast it is challenging to grasp the intricacy of the book and the significance of all the stories and details (the Bible Project videos are a big help for this). So at some point, you are going to want to come back and reread Matthew slowly and carefully so you can spend time considering what Jesus is doing and saying.
As we begin reading the New Testament, I want to make just one observation about the beginning of Matthew and encourage you to reflect with me. I love Christmas. I love the story of Jesus’ birth and I look forward to it every year. But Matthew tells a story of Jesus' birth that we don’t sing carols about. Joseph takes Jesus to Egypt to hide (Ch. 2) because Herod sets about killing all the first born male children in the area in and around Bethlehem who might be the “king of the Jews” he has heard was just born. No room for rival kings in Galilee. It is a difficult part of the story. Matthew includes it because it helps us understand the One True God entered the real world.
God came to us knowing his advent would cause pain - the prophet predicted it (2:18). God came to us knowing he was vulnerable to the whims of cruel rulers and to subject to plight of the downtrodden and powerless. God came to us knowing he would grow up with flawed parents who didn’t and couldn’t understand that he was the great I AM, Immanuel.
Before you get absorbed in the stories of Jesus teaching great crowds and calming storms at sea, take a few minutes to rub the glitter off the story of Christmas and consider why the way he came to us matters so much.
There is no pain or plight in the human experience Jesus isn't familiar with. There is no injustice or oppression he hasn’t lived through. The wealthy people didn’t notice him. The powerful people tried to kill him. His own nation and even his home town rejected him.
I believe Jesus knows what I feel like when I feel like life is wrong and unfair. I believe Jesus empathizes with me when I get taken advantage of or falsely accused. I believe Jesus understands how I feel when even the people I love don’t seem to love me.
I can tell him how I really feel. I don’t have to fake “spiritualness” or feel guilty because if I had more faith I’d bear up better. I can just go to him and know he knows. Jesus is God with us.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28)