Sunday, November 13, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew is the first book of the New Testament, and is also the first of four books that talk about the life of Jesus; these books are called the gospels. It was written by Matthew, one of Jesus' twelve disciples.

Matthew is a very Jewish gospel, because it was written by a Jewish man and seems to be written with a specifically Jewish audience in mind.  The first chapter takes care to list Jesus' Jewish heritage and his genealogy through his mother Mary. Basically, the genealogy hits all the high points in Jewish history, starting from Abraham the patriarch, then down the line to king David, then through the time when Israel was carried away to captivity in Babylon. There's actually a numerical pattern in the generations, as verse 17 notes: "So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations." I don't believe in numbers controlling our destinies, and I don't think the Bible ever advocates that idea, either, but God definitely does seem to pay attention to numbers, because 4's, 7's, 12's, and 40's show up everywhere in the Old and New Testaments.

Verse 18 of chapter one deals with how Jesus came to exist on earth: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." Meaning that his mother was engaged to a man but she was still a virgin, and she was a virgin even after becoming pregnant, because the spirit of God somehow created life in her. A lot of people are tripped up by the believability of immaculate conception (a.k.a. a virgin getting pregnant), but if God created the universe, then I think he can bend the rules of creation in whatever way he wants. And Jesus had to have a miraculous element to his birth because he wasn't just some special guy who taught good things--he was God in the flesh, come to save his people from their sins.

Chapter 3 is when Jesus really begins his ministry on earth. He is baptized by John, and when he emerges from the water, there's an open verbal recognition from God: "And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"(3:17). The next passage that really captures my attention is chapter 5's Sermon on the Mount, also known as the Beatitudes:

"-Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

-Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
-Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
-Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
-Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
-Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
-Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
-Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
-Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake."

I note that most of these things that Jesus says we'll be blessed for are not things that we'd necessarily choose to do, just out of our own will. Sure, it sounds good to be a "peacemaker", but in reality it can be fun to stir up trouble, or to gossip and promote conflict. It sounds good to be merciful, but what if God calls us to show mercy to someone we'd really like to pay back for what they've done to us? I like reading and re-reading the Sermon on the Mount, because it reminds me of traits that I need to have as a Christian, which I normally do not practice. Matthew has 28 chapters and continues through all the miracles and teachings of Jesus, concluding with his crucifixion and resurrection, but this part is always what lingers in my mind.

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