We’ll conclude Mark this week and move into Matthew. Each Gospel has a different flavor, which we’ll see as we transition from Mark to Matthew. Mark’s Gospel was fast-paced and focused on properly understanding who Jesus is as Christ, Son of God, and Son of Man. Matthew takes a different route to the same perspective. He focuses on Jesus’ fulfillment of OT Scripture, Jesus’ relationship to righteousness and the law, and the authority of Jesus’ teaching.
Throughout his Gospel, Mark has been concerned to show Gentiles that Jesus is the Son of God. Pay attention to these themes as you read the final chapters, and especially the centurion’s response. Why might that be a persuasive for Gentiles? Mark also ends abruptly with the disciples remaining silent and telling no one. The disciples serve as a “foil” for proper discipleship. They’re always getting it wrong, it seems. But, if we subscribe to the scholarly belief that Mark relied heavily on Peter’s memory of the events, you could understand why Peter might cast the disciples in a negative light (since they all deserted Jesus in his final moments). It’s as if Mark is showing us “what not to do.” [Some of your versions may have a bracketed ending, which I will not deal with in detail here. Most scholars agree it is not original. If you want to dig deeper on this, you can read this articleor this article. I’d recommend going deeper about Mark’s unusual ending.]
Matthew 1 links us right back to the Old Testament showing us how Jesus is the son of David and the son of Abraham – who were both recipients of God’s unilateral promise to bless them. Jesus is the fulfillment of that blessing as his genealogy shows – but his lineage is full of surprising characters like Tamar, Rahab, and Uriah. In chapter 2, Matthew continues his close reading of the story of Jesus alongside Old Testament prophecies. We’ll see Micah 5:2 listed, an allusion to the story of Moses in Egypt, the subsequent redemption of the people of Israel in the Exodus, and a citation of Jeremiah 31 (which speaks about a time the Lord will turn mourning into joy). Matthew is showing how Jesus is recapitulating and fulfilling Israel’s story.
Here in the third chapter of Matthew is where Mark’s gospel started. You’ll have already noticed how much fulfillment of Scripture has happened in Matthew 1-2 and chapters 3-4 are no different as we read citations from Isaiah 40 and Deuteronomy. If you have margin when you’re reading, it’s helpful to go back to each Old Testament citation and read the surrounding verses/chapter to get more context. For example, Isaiah 40 is about the Lord coming to comfort his people through his word and Deuteronomy is Moses’ final encouragement to the people of Israel in the wilderness before they enter the Promised Land. Whereas Israel failed in the wilderness, Jesus is faithful to God’s word in the wilderness.
After Jesus returns from the wilderness testing, he went up on the mountain and began to speak with authority. Can you hear the echoes of the history of Israel? In chapter 5, Matthew is portraying Jesus as the new Moses – just like Deuteronomy 18:15 predicted. A new prophet like Moses has been raised up He goes up on the mountain and delivers a new way of living in the kingdom of God. That’s what the law initially was. It was a guideline, an invitation for life in God’s kingdom, an invitation to human flourishing. But Jesus came to fulfill the Law. He is the only one who lived wholly in accord with God’s character, God’s will, and God’s coming kingdom.
The Sermon on the Mount continues through Matthew 7. Jesus instructs us about relationships within the kingdom of God. Matthew 7 has (arguably) two of the most culturally famous verses from the Sermon on the Mount: verse 1 (judge not) and verse 12 (do unto others what you would have them to do to you). These teachings of Jesus are difficult. They don’t lower any of the standards – they raise them. They don’t let us off the hook or lower level of righteousness. Instead, Jesus raises the level. Left to our own power, we couldn’t possibly measure up. At the end of the sermon, the people are amazed because Jesus has taught with authority and clarity about what the Law requires. But Jesus doesn’t just teach with authority. He acts with authority, too. That’s what Matthew 8 shows us.
Matthew has been showing how Jesus is doing something new amongst Israel – as an analogy, he’s putting fresh wine in new wineskins. With his disciples, he’s creating a “new Israel” through whom the kingdom advances. The in-breaking kingdom is all gift. It can only be received. It cannot be bought. That much is clear from Jesus’ ministry in chapter 9. The need is great. And in response to this great need, Jesus sends his twelve disciples out on their own mission to proclaim the kingdom – free of charge. He gives practical instructions about entering and exiting towns, explains the danger of their mission (like sheep among wolves), reminds them of their value (the Father sees them as worth more than many sparrows), encourages them not to shrink back from the polarizing nature of the gospel (even to the point of setting families at odds), and finally casts their vision toward to final days and the rewards coming for those who receive the Son and the Father.
Questions continue to abound about Jesus’ identity. Even John the Baptist has his questions to which Jesus replies with a subtle reference to the ministry of the Servant/Messiah from Isaiah. The ministry of Jesus should’ve invited repentance, but instead it brought hardened hearts and unrepentance. The Father instead chooses to reveal the Son to the “least” rather than the audiences and cities that should’ve expected Jesus. To these who are weary and heavy burdened by the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light. When we bear his yoke, he carries the weight and he gives us rest for our weary souls.