Last night we said that we’re enjoying a “Gospel Neapolitan” this weekend.
That’s the box with vanilla AND chocolate AND strawberry all together—
all three flavors in one box—that’s what this weekend is.
Last night we tasted a little of Mark’s gospel.
Even though it comes second in the New Testament,
Mark was almost certainly the first gospel to be written.
And he gives us a story
where the ancient God of Israel
is tearing into the world to rescue and ransom
people that never understand and never get it right.
And yet Mark seems to be saying that God gives good news to human failure.
Because he gives us the good news of God’s strange success.
Jesus says his death (of all things!) is a ransom for others (Mk 10.45) .
It’s some kind of exchange.
He took death.
And he’s giving life.
And he can only give life
because he’s not dead.
The witness of the church throughout the centuries has been
that the mysterious messenger at the end of Mark is right.
Jesus IS risen. The tomb IS empty.
And so Jesus is clueing us into something startling.
That the universe is a different place than we expect.
That life works in a completely different way than we expect.
That God himself is different person than we expect.
We all want to become big in our worlds—
to be powerful, to be great, to conquer, to win.
And yet the Son of God shows us what God looks like
(the family resemblance, you might say)
by becoming weak, by suffering, by dying, by losing…
…and somehow doing it for others.
The only person in the world
not trying to be powerful or great,
not trying to conquer or win,
And Jesus invites to see the world more clearly—to see it as it really is.
And he invites us to follow him.
Mark lays a lot of groundwork for us.
He gives us the big story.
As we begin to sample the flavors of John and Luke and Matthew,
they have a lot in common in with Mark.
They’re all the same kind of thing—
they’re all pointing us to same events,
they’re all sharing about the same Jesus,
they’re all smooth and sweet and cold and creamy.
All four of them are ice cream.
All four of them are gospels.
But they’re all giving us a different taste of Jesus
…and a different taste of life.
Most Bible nerds—and let’s be honest, that’s Biblical scholars are—
think that Matthew probably used Mark’s story as a starting place for his own.
You can find around ninety percent of Mark’s gospel
more or less still intact inside Matthew’s gospel.
But Matthew is almost twice as long as Mark,
so he’s added tons of new material.
In terms of ice cream flavors,
maybe Matthew is a bit like cookie dough.
It may have used vanilla as its base
but now cookie dough is definitely its own thing.
With Mark we skated through the story.
the story of Jesus arriving on the scene,
proclaiming the kingdom, healing the broken, casting out demons,
eventually setting out to die in Jerusalem and then rising from the dead
(even through we don’t actually see him resurrected in Mark).
That was the general story.
Instead of skating through that general story again
(which would be even more impossible than it was with Mark),
we’re going to just focus in on some of the things that are unique to Matthew’s story
What does Matthew taste like?
Let’s find out.
If you’re at the beginning of Matthew, the first thing you’ll notice is
that he’s added an exciting new introduction to the story:
(1.1) This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah
the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram…
And on and on and on it goes.
For another 13 verses and over 30 more names.
Matthew knew exactly what you were hoping for,
and he delivered the goods—a nice, long genealogy.
It’s not exactly the way we would open a story,
but Matthew is wanting to make sure you don’t miss something.
The “something” he doesn’t want you to miss
is the same thing that Mark was assuming when he opened up
with “as it is written in Isaiah the prophet.”
Mark assumed you knew something
about the hope of the Judeans and the Jerusalem-dwellers.
Matthew is wanting to make sure you don’t miss the fact
that the story of Jesus is also the story of the people of Israel.
The story of the long-awaited Messiah or Christ or “anointed one”
is the story of the Old Testament—the story of Abraham and David and exile.
(1.17) Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
And then Matthew begins easing us into the story of Jesus:
(1.18-25) This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.
Hooray—we finally get some of the Christmas story!
“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about.”
If we read any further we’d hear about pagan astrologers (“Magi”)
from the East who are following a star.
(If you’re hunting for shepherds and “heavenly hosts,”
you’re going to have to wait until Luke.)
This stuff right here—this conversation between Joseph and an angel in a dream—
is only found in Matthew.
And we can begin tasting the flavor of his gospel right here if we know what to look for.
If you’ve got Bibles that you don’t mind writing in,
I’m going to give you three little phrases from these 8 verses to underline.
The first is in verse 19: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law.”
The second is in verse 21: “he will save his people from their sins.”
And the third is in verse 23: “they will call him ‘Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)”
I think those three little phrases right here as the story begins
will help us savor the flavor of Matthew.
So for the next 20 minutes or so, we’re going to use these three phrases as guideposts.
They’re going to help us know what to be on the lookout for through Matthew.
Matthew’s story of Jesus the Messiah (v18)
takes being faithful to law seriously (v19)
being saved from sins seriously (v21)
and “God with us” seriously (v23).
So first, Joseph finds out that his fiancee (Mary) is pregnant.
And he’s not the daddy.
Now, Joseph is a Jew who takes obedience to Torah (the Jewish law) very seriously.
According to Deuteronomy 22, he could (and should!) divorce her.
If he doesn’t, he’s turning a blind eye to something that’s gone wrong.
In the language of Deuteronomy, he’s allowing a kind of “evil” to remain in Israel.
And as Jew who takes God’s instruction very seriously,
you don’t want any kind of evil to remain in Israel.
After all, according to the Hebrew Bible,
that’s the reason Israel had been conquered by so many nations.
Assyria and Babylon and the Greeks and the Romans—
all of these kingdoms that had been dominating them for centuries—
were God’s judgment for allowing evil in their midst.
So by the time we get to the first century,
people were crossing their Ts and dotting their Is
when it came to obeying God as completely and fully as possible.
They were wanting to be as “faithful to the law” as possible.
They were wanting to be “righteous” (responding rightly to God).
Righteous as individuals, sure.
But also righteous as a nation.
A lot of people thought that when God’s people
finally got serious enough about obeying God’s instruction
the world would see the miraculous arrival of God’s messiah
who would banish evil and finally establish God’s kingdom.
One group leaning in this direction was a group called the Pharisees.
They’re the guys in Jesus’ day who advocated rigorous obedience to Jewish law,
and they thought everyone else around them ought to get serious about it.
They’re the kind of people who might even call for a girl like Mary—
who by all appearances has been unfaithful to Joseph—
to be executed by stoning (cf. Jn 8).
But Joseph is “faithful to the law” (is how the NIV translates it).
Joseph is “righteous” is literally what the Greek says.
If you want to know what real righteousness looks like—
what real right living looks like—
then watch what Joseph does.
Because you’re going to hear Jesus saying a lot about it in Matthew.
Joseph hasn’t ever heard of a “virgin birth” before.
All he knows is his fiancee is pregnant, and it wasn’t him.
He knows he can’t go through with the marriage
because he doesn’t want to tolerate evil.
He knows he needs to be obedient.
But… this is Mary. This is HIS Mary.
He can’t just drag her to the town gate to be stoned.
Summary execution can’t be the right thing here.
That feels like two wrongs trying to make a right.
Surely living rightly before God demands more than just consulting a rulebook.
So he’s going to divorce her quietly.
That’s not how the Pharisees would have read Deuteronomy 22 (v20-24).
They would have accused Joseph of being play games with the Bible—
of not taking the law seriously.
But Joseph knows somewhere in his guts
that any understanding of the Bible or the law of obeying God
that doesn’t take mercy and love seriously
can’t be the right way to live.
Whatever the Pharisees of his day might be,
they’re not righteous.
Joseph knows he needs to be obedient to God,
and he knows he needs to have mercy.
Matthew says Joseph is righteous.
He is faithful to the law.
This comes up again and again in Matthew.
After Jesus grows up and is baptized,
he starts proclaiming that the reign of God is finally arriving:
(4.19) From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
(Side note: You’ll notice that a lot of times Matthew avoids saying “kingdom of God” by saying “kingdom of heaven.” It’s the same thing. Heaven is a way of basically saying “God” without having to say “God.”)
So Jesus starts proclaiming the arrival of God’s kingdom and healing people.
He’s making things the way God wants them.
But then Jesus starts teaching:
(5.1-2) Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
We said that Matthew is about twice the length of Mark—
that he’s added a ton of material to Mark’s story—
and a huge chunk of that is teaching.
Matthew 5-7 is a block of teaching
that people have called “the Sermon on the Mount.”
Perhaps you’ve heard of it.
All in all, there are five big blocks of teaching in Matthew.
(Matt 5-7, 10, 13, 18, 24)
Matthew turns down the volume on the action hero
and makes sure that we also understand Jesus as teacher.
It’s important not to miss
that Jesus the “Messiah” (the “Christ, the “anointed one”)
teaches us how to live.
The long-awaited king is teacher.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the more famous sections of the Bible,
and we can’t do it justice right now.
Maybe read it sometime.
You could divide it up over a few days.
It doesn’t take long.
…to read that is.
Learning to live the Sermon on the Mount, however—
that’s the challenge.
That’s a lifelong endeavor.
But there’s something near the beginning of it that I want us to notice. Jesus says:
(5.17-20) 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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
This is the only place where these words of Jesus are recorded,
so we’re probably on safe ground when we think of them as important to Matthew.
That language of living rightly (being “righteous”) crops up again and again.
And evidently right-living (“righteousness”) is not optional.
But what does it look like?
What does it mean to really live as God intended us to live?
To really obey God?
Matthew is filled with examples of what it doesn’t look like.
Full of people like the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,
who do all kinds of religious stuff and who know the Bible backwards and forwards,
but who are incredibly far from real and lasting life.
In chapter 23, Jesus actually goes on a chapter-long tirade
against two-faced, self-serving religious leaders.
Jesus obviously had read up on how to win friends and influence people
when he called them “snakes” and “vipers” and said they’re like “white-washed tombs.”
They look good on the outside
but inside they’re full of death.
At one point in the middle of this (amazing) smackdown, Jesus says:
(23.23-24) Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! [Add that to the list…] You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
They think godly living is principally about managing appearances and rule-keeping.
They were so meticulous at rule-keeping
that they put little bags of spices into the offering plate.
“We’re supposed to tithe?
By George, we’re going to tithe.”
But there’s the thing—they’re missing whole point of God’s instruction.
They’re keeping all the rules—keeping them down to dill—
but their hearts are shriveling up.
At one point in chapter nine, they don’t understand why Jesus is hanging out with the most despised people in the city. If he’s going to teach people how to live—and certainly if he’s going to become king—he needs to be hanging out with the right people:
(9.10-13) While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus is tapping into the words of one of Israel’s prophets (Hosea). He’s saying,
“You need to read your Bibles again because you’ve missed the whole point.
Do you know anything about the heart of God?”
“God isn’t interested in any of sacrifices to him or actions toward him
until you’re learning what it means show each other mercy and love each other well.”
It’s like Jesus can see right through these guys.
They’ve discovered that they can make themselves big and keep others small
and I’m sure they can quote some Bible verses to defend their actions.
But Jesus says, “You’ve missed it.”
A few chapters later, the Pharisees start getting after Jesus again. This time Jesus isn’t just hurting his appearance; this time he and his disciples are behaving in a way that seems to violate some of the central parts of being God’s people.
And Jesus quotes Hosea to them a second time:
(12.7) If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
Matthew is the only place where Jesus quotes that bit of Hosea,
and he does it twice (just in case we missed it the first time).
God isn’t interested in creating self-obsessed, rule-keeping performers.
God is interested in creating merciful lovers.
Some of Scripture’s strongest language of hell shows up in Matthew.
But it’s not aimed at who we often think.
Most of it is is aimed at religious performers—
these religious people who think they’re “in” and everyone else is “out” (23.13, 33).
Jesus uses some scary and fiery language
to tell us that God will people sort out in the end.
God will sort out the
the wheat from the weeds (13.24-30, 36-43),
the good fish from the bad (13.47-50),
the sheep from the goats (25.31-46)
the lovers from the performers.
Jesus is challenging us in Matthew—
Jesus is inviting us in Matthew—
to the live life as it was meant to be lived.
And what Jesus means by right-living—
what Jesus is teaching in the Sermon on the Mount—
goes way beyond just performing.
Jesus is interested in the deepest kind of transformation of his followers.
dealing with anger and hatred in our hearts (5.21-22)
and mending broken relationships (5.23-26)
and living free from lust (5.27-30)
and learning to speak honestly (5.33-37)
and learning to love our enemies (5.38-48).
and learning what it means to pray (6.5-14)
and beginning to live free from worry (6.25-34).
And that’s not even a comprehensive list from the Sermon on the Mount.
And the Sermon on the Mount is just the first of five teachings in Matthew.
Mark emphasized the human capacity for failure.
That we never get it right. And that encourages me—a lot.
Matthew is emphasizing another truth.
Matthew is emphasizing the human capacity for obedience.
That we can actually put the words of Jesus into practice (7.24-27).
And that encourages me in a different kind of way.
It encourages me that God not just be interested in saving me from my sins
one day down the road in the sweet by and by.
God is interested in saving us from our sins right now.
Which that’s, of course exactly what the angel told Joseph.
Jesus is going to save his people from their sins (1.21).
And in Matthew, it seems that part of being saved from your sins
is being taught by Jesus to live in a new kind of way.
Learning to obey God, sure.
But that really means learning to live lives defined by mercy and love.
Jesus himself says it this way (again, this is only in Matthew):
(7.13-14) Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Jesus is saying that we need to put his words into practice (7.24-27).
Because we won’t be entering the kingdom,
we won’t be tasting life as God means for it to be,
we won’t be finding the narrow path of true life,
until we learn to live rightly.
As long as you keep going to those websites,
you’re going to keep feeling that despair.
It will continue to feel like hell.
That’s because it is (cf. 5.29-30).
It’s really is possible to be free.
I get it. That person hurt you.
It was inexcusable and awful and real.
And you can choose to stay angry at them; you can refuse to forgive them;
you can refuse to even be open to the possibility of beginning to forgive them;
Just know that you’re in danger. In danger of missing life (cf. 5.22).
In danger of shutting yourself off from being able to receive forgiveness
(cf. 7.14-15; 18.33-34).
If you’ll learn to forgive, you’ll find life.
You can keep putting on a show in front of everyone.
Just know that you’ve already got your reward (cf. 6.16-18).
And all anyone is ever going to know about you
is what you’re pretending to be.
What would it look like to begin living honestly with those around you? (cf. 5.37)
You can keep worrying and obsessing about that thing,
but it’s not going to change anything (5.25-32).
God is caring for you—can you begin to trust that?
Whatever it is, however it’s got it’s grip in you,
Jesus wants to save us from the things that are killing us.
Jesus is here to save us from our sins.
And Matthew emphasizes the most important way that Jesus does that
with details he includes about Jesus’ last meal (ch 26).
Jesus is celebrating a holiday with his disciples.
They’re eating a Passover Seder together.
They’re coming together to celebrate
how their God set them free from the chains of Egypt way back then
and how God will set them free from every other kind of chain.
And as they’re eating the meal,
Jesus raises the Passover cup but changes the Passover words.
Instead of thanking God for the “fruit of the vine” like everyone always had,
(26.27-28) Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
For all of the early church—but for Matthew especially—
you look to the cross to know that God has forgiven your sins.
You don’t get righteous—you don’t start living rightly—to get forgiveness.
God forgives you. Period.
Our Father is a merciful lover (5.43-48).
And by his mercy, we become merciful lovers too.
God was always trying to teach us love him and love like him.
That’s what all the Law and the Prophets were about (22.37-40).
And now they’ve been fulfilled.
Jesus wasn’t joking.
He’s not here to abolish the Law or the Prophets.
He’s not setting aside the Hebrew Scriptures;
He’s not jettisoning the sacrifices.
He’s here to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
He’s here to fill out the Hebrew Scriptures.
He’s here to become the sacrifice.
Jesus hands us the cup and says, “My blood—this is what makes you right with God.
Behold my broken body, and you’ll find your forgiveness.”
That deep kind of transformation that Jesus is wanting for us,
this is ultimately where it’s found—by drinking deeply of Jesus.
Through him, we begin to taste something we never realized.
We begin to taste mercy.
We begin to believe that God has mercy on us.
And as we begin to taste this mercy and begin to believe it,
and it starts changing something in us.
We start hearing Jesus saying:
“Now that you’ve taken this cup,
now that you’ve found your sins forgiven,
follow me—follow me down the narrow path.
“Let me show you the path of life.
Learn to put my words into practice.
Let me save you from your sins right now.
“I have fulfilled the law, and now I’m going to be with you.
Always and forever, I’m going to be with you.”
And that, of course, that’s the name that Matthew (and only Matthew)
gives us Jesus at the beginning of his gospel.
The angel told us that Jesus is Immanuel, “God with us.”
And by handing us the cup,
Immanuel telling us something even more stunning—
that God is for us.
From beginning to end,
this is why Matthew is good news.
The reason why we should never despair—
the reason we find our sins forgiven through the blood of Jesus—
is because God is for us.
And the reason why our lives can change—
the reason why we can begin becoming loving and merciful now—
is because God is with us.
At the beginning of Matthew he’s called Immanuel.
In the middle of Matthew Jesus says,
(18.20) …where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
And at the end of Matthew, Jesus says it again in a familiar passage:
(28.16-20) “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 of 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 is Jesus talking after being risen from the dead.
And he’s talking to us.
All authority has been given to me—I’m the king.
Now go. Help others follow me.
Teach them how to live.
And I’m with you.
God is with US—plural.
That’s why the Church exists—why Grace Church exists.
Because God meets us as we gather together.
And together he’s teaching us what it means to live rightly.
As we share in your small groups, as you encourage each other,
as we’re broken and vulnerable and caring for the needs around us (cf. 25.34-36)
as we’re learning to obey everything he commanded—to live lives of love and mercy—
our lives begin to resemble the merciful one who has already fulfilled everything.
And somehow he’s present.
So may we trust that all authority has been indeed been given to our king,
may we recognize his presence with us as we learn to love each other well,
may we believe the good news everything really has been fulfilled by “God with us”,
and may we learn to walk the narrow path into lives of mercy and love.