Monday, July 9, 2018

READ IT! - Introduction to Matthew 4-10

Readings for this week

Monday: Matthew 4
Tuesday: Matthew 5
Wednesday: Matthew 6
Thursday: Matthew 7
Friday: Matthew 8
Saturday: Matthew 9
Sunday: Matthew 10

Introduction to Matthew 4-10

Chapter 4 

Chapter four begins immediately after Jesus’ baptism. “The Spirit” immediately sends Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan for forty days and nights. In the Bible, the number 40 is almost always associated with times of trial and testing (e.g., Moses as a shepherd for 40 years, Israel wandering the wilderness for 40 years, Elijah in the wilderness for 40 days, etc.) 

Matthew says that Jesus fasted this whole time and was very hungry by the end of it. The devil says to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy, saying, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This passage of scripture talks about how God led Israel into the desert in order to make them hungry and to teach them to rely on him for everything. 

Then the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.” He then justified this command by quoting from Psalm 91, saying: 

“‘He will command his angels concerning you, 
and they will lift you up in their hands, 
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 

This was actually a really stupid thing for the devil to say, because if he had gone on to read the rest of that verse he was quoting, he would have read, "You will tread on the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent." The devil is often described as a lion and a serpent, so he was actually quoting from a psalm that was speaking of his own destruction by the Messiah.

Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, saying, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. He said, “All this I will give you if you will bow down and worship me.” 

Jesus again quotes Deuteronomy, saying, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 

Jesus learns that John the Baptist has been put in prison, so he goes back to Galilee. He relocates from Nazareth to Capernaum by the shore of the Sea of Galilee and begins to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 

The fishermen Peter, Andrew, James and John begin to follow Jesus. Jesus goes around Galilee, teaching in synagogues, healing people of diseases and casting out demons, and news about him spreads around the region. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis (the 10 pagan cities), Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan follow him. 

Chapter 5 

When God established the covenant with his people, Moses climbed a mountain to receive the covenant law. Jesus, who came to fulfill that covenant, gave the new covenant guidelines on a mountain as well. But instead of the wilderness mountain at Sinai, Jesus taught on a hill near Korazin. The Beatitudes largely come from the Psalms and the Prophets. Jesus’ audience would have recognized much of what Jesus said as coming from Isaiah and David. This was not revolutionary teaching. Rather, the revolution was that Jesus actually expected his disciples to do it, that is, he centered his teachings on such things rather than sacrifice, ritual, and pattern keeping. Remember, he taught during an age when revolution against Rome was in the air. The Messiah was supposed to be a king who’d overthrow Roman rule. And yet this Messiah taught meekness, humility, poverty of spirit, turning the other cheek, and walking the extra mile with Roman soldiers! 

Each Beatitude consists of two phrases: the condition and the result. In almost every case the condition is from familiar Old Testament context, but Jesus teaches a new interpretation. This passage also relies heavily upon Isaiah 61, which is about the coming Messiah. For example:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven..”

Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

During the first century, the people of Galilee used dome-shaped ovens made of hardened mud. Salt was mixed with dried animal droppings: a common fuel, because the chemical reaction made the animal droppings burn hotter and longer. Over time, however, the salt lost the qualities that made it effective. So, when it was no longer fit even for being mixed with manure, the "saltless" salt was thrown out.

Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” In some Jewish seminaries, professors return papers with either one of two grades: lekayem, meaning fulfill, or batel, meaning abolish, in rabbinic terminology. In other words, to fulfill the Law means to interpret the Law correctly so that it can be lived correctly. To abolish the Law is to incorrectly interpret it — or to interpret it without giving the student what he needs to know to live it.

Jesus also says that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus then equates unresolved anger and unforgiveness with murder, and lust with adultery. He also says men commit adultery when they divorce their wives for any reason other than sexual unfaithfulness. He also says that rather than trying to keep your oaths, don’t make oaths at all since you have so little control over your life as it is.

And he says rather than do good to those who are good to you, do good to those who hate you. Be perfect as God is perfect. 

Chapter 6 

Some forms of Christianity have had a long prejudice against involvement in theater and film. But the Gospels show that Jesus was very familiar with the theater. The Greco-Roman plays of the time were likely offensive, if not pornographic. However, Jesus knew about actors, due to his use of the Greek word we translate “hypocrite.” “Hypocrite” means “actor.” No one else in the Bible uses the word. He says, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others…” Leading actors going on stage were announced with a trumpet. Thus, there is a double meaning — with the hypocrites in the synagogues acting like the actors in the theaters. The comparison was not just a moral judgment, but a comparison of the hypocrites to pagans. 

Jesus also says not to pray on the street corner like a hypocrite to be seen by everyone but pray in secret. He also says not to babble like a pagan who thinks that they will be heard because of their many words… because God knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray: 

“‘Our Father in heaven, 
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.
for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’”

And he says if you don’t forgive others, God will not forgive you.

Jesus speaks of actors receiving applause. The “actors” painted their faces to look like they were fasting. Again, Jesus compares the hypocrites with (pagan) actors, not just by the use of the word, but by the images chosen.

Jesus continues:

Don’t store up treasure on earth that can be stolen and destroyed, but store up treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Your eyes let light into your body if they are good, but if not then you will be filled with darkness. If your own light is darkened, that’s really dark!

You can’t serve two masters – you’ll hate one and lover the other – the same is true with God and money.

Don’t worry about your life. Life is more than worrying about clothes and food. Look at the birds! They don’t save for the future… because God provides for them… and God cares more about you than about the birds! Worrying doesn’t lengthen your life at all. Look at the flowers! God dresses them more lavishly than Solomon in his splendor… and flowers don’t last a day! He cares more about you than the flowers! Pagans worry about their lives, but you don’t need to because your life is God’s concern. Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Chapter 7 

Jesus says that if you judge others, you will be judges by the same measure. He says that people get distracted by dust in someone else’s eye when they have a plank in their own. How can they even see that speck of dust?!?

He adds: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”

He continues: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Jesus says that even bad parents don’t give stones and snakes to their hungry children… so how much more will God – the best parent – give god gifts to those who ask him!

Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Few people choose to go through the narrow door to the narrow road… but if they do they find life!

Jesus says to watch out for false prophets, comparing them to wolves dressed as sheep. And he says to test prophets in the way you test plants… by their fruit. Good trees don’t bear bad fruit… and bad trees ultimately end up being burned

He adds that not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom, but only those who do the Father’s will. He says even if people cast out demons and perform miracles in his name, if they don’t do the Father’s will, then they do not know him and will be cast out.

He compares those who practice his teachings to a man who builds his house’s foundation on a rock. But those who hear and do not practice are like a man who builds his house in a sand pit only to have it be washed away in a flood.

The context of this parable is seen in where the sand pits are located…in wadis, or flood valleys. The wadis are a great place to build a house. Sand isn’t the issue. The issue is when it rains up in the mountains 50 miles away, the wadis suddenly are filled with a torrent of water from the run-off up in the mountains. So Jesus says to spiritually “build your house” in a place where you won’t be easily washed away, like up on the rocks… And who does the psalmist say our “rock” is? God! Only a stupid person would build their house in a Wadi.

The text says that when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Chapter 8 

In chapter eight begins the first narrative section depicting ten miracles of Jesus. First, Jesus heals a man with leprosy. Jesus then goes to Capernaum and a Roman centurion goes up to him and tells him that his servant is very sick. Jesus asks if he should come and heal him. The centurion says that he doesn’t deserve to have Jesus come to house, but he knows that Jesus doesn’t have to come all that way to heal him – he can “just say the word” and he will be healed. The centurion tells Jesus that as a man of authority himself he recognizes that Jesus has authority of his own, and that whatever he says will happen will happen. Jesus is amazed and says to the people following him that he hasn’t found any Israelite with greater faith than this Roman. He says that the pagans have begun to follow God and will be rewarded, but God’s own people don’t believe in Him and because of this they will be punished. Jesus then tells the centurion to go back home and he will find his servant healed… and he does.

We then read stories about Jesus heals many people, the cost of following Jesus, Jesus calming the storm, and Jesus restoring two demon-possessed men.

Chapter 9 

We then read about Jesus forgiving and healing a paralyzed man, the calling of Matthew, Jesus being questioned about fasting, and Jesus raising a dead girl and healing a sick woman.

At some point, two blind men follow Jesus saying, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Jesus takes the men inside and asks them if they believe he is able to do this. They say yes, and Jesus touches their eyes and they are healed. Jesus orders them not to tell anybody about this, but they go out and spread the word anyway.

Later, a demon-possessed man who was also a mute was brought to Jesus. Jesus drives out the demon and the man begins to speak again. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”

The text says that “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Chapter 10 

In this second of the five major discourses of Jesus in Matthew, Jesus summons the twelve disciples and formally hands over to them his same authority to preach the good news of the kingdom and to heal "every" disease. Along with the authority come instructions for the conduct of the disciples’ mission, instructions that would seem to offer some transparency to the situation and mission of Matthew's own contemporary disciple community.

It suggests a situation of wandering missionaries, relying on the hospitality of those who receive them and not lingering long with those who do not. It warns of the need for wisdom amid the tough realities of mission for ones who go as "sheep into the midst of wolves." It gives encouragement to face certain persecution that the Father's Spirit will be with them and that in their suffering they are only imitating their master. It comforts them with the promise of the Father's presence and concern and with the value and hope of rewards for faithful endurance. In so doing, key themes of discipleship and mission are noted, combining material from Mark, Q, and special Matthean material. The call for the decision to acknowledge the Son of Man will bring not peace but a sword. Worthy discipleship will mean to take up the cross and discover what it means that those who lose their lives for Jesus' sake will find it. Finally, disciples are given to realize that whoever welcomes them is actually welcoming the Messiah and, in turn, "the one who sent me."

The Messiah's identity is constituted in the mission of his disciples. So it is significant that such welcoming is linked here to the theme of righteousness. Three times righteousness is specifically mentioned in connection with the disciple mission and even a cup of water for these "little ones" in the name of a disciple merits reward. The discourse concludes once again with the characteristic formula of disciple instruction and reference to Jesus' ongoing ministry of teaching and proclamation.

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