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JESUS' BIRTH, INFANCY, AND BAPTISM
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Matthew 1
1. With whom does the genealogy of Jesus begin? (1:2)
2. What five women are included? (1:3, 5, 6, 16)
3. Is the ancestry traced to Joseph or Mary? (1:16)
4. How many generations are reported? (1:17)
5. What are the major divisions in the ancestry? (1:17)
6. Why does Joseph first want to divorce Mary? (1:18)
7. What does the name Jesus signify? (1:21)
Answer these questions by reading Matthew 2
8. Who is the king of Judea when Jesus is born? (2:1)
9. How do the magi (wise men) know that Jesus is to be born in Bethlehem? (2:5- 6)
10. Why don't the magi return to Herod? (2:12)
11. Why does Joseph take the family to Egypt? (2:13)
12. Whom does Herod kill in Bethlehem? (2:16)
13. Where does Joseph take Jesus and Mary when they return from Egypt? (2:21-23)
Answer these questions by reading Matthew 3
14. What message does John the Baptist preach? (3:2)
15. Who foretells that a preacher will "prepare the way for the Lord"? (3:3)
16. Where do the people come from who want to be baptized by John? (3:5)
17. Whom does John call a "brood of vipers"? (3:7)
18. What does John tell them to do? (3:8)
19. Why does John first refuse to baptize Jesus? (3:14)
20. Why does Jesus say it is fitting for John to baptize him? (3:15)
21. What does Jesus see when he is baptized? (3:16)
22. What does the voice from heaven say? (3:17)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
The first two chapters of Matthew tell of Jesus' ancestry and birth and the flight into Egypt. These stories, like the ones in Luke 1–2, were told to report the wonderful and miraculous things people believed happened at the birth of the Messiah.
Chapter 3 is the account of John the Baptist's preaching and Jesus' baptism by John. Jesus emerges onto the public scene of his ministry here.
* Matthew 1:1-17. How could Matthew introduce such an important book with a column of genealogy? Finding a more boring beginning for any book, especially this one, is hard to imagine. Let's imagine ourselves back in time to the first- century church of Jewish Christians for whom Matthew writes. Now does it sound boring? Far from it. In fact Matthew can scarcely have chosen a better way to begin. This report of Jesus' ancestry was written for the Jews who have chosen to follow Christ. It tells them that the history of God's salvation began with Israel in the covenant God made with Abraham. This salvation comes directly down to "Jesus who is called the Messiah" (1:16). The former covenants are not broken. On the contrary, Christ's followers inherit the promises once made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. This genealogy is not written to persuade anyone to believe in Jesus as the Christ. Matthew's Christians already believed that. The genealogy links their new experience with Israel's salvation history.
If we think about this list of sometimes unpronounceable names we may wonder about three things. Three groups of fourteen generations each are listed. We do not know why the list is composed the way it is. But Matthew clearly divides the ancestry by three of the greatest names and events of Israel's covenant history. The list goes on from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian Exile, from the Exile to Jesus.
Matthew was way ahead of his time by giving five women as much place as this in God's design for salvation.
And why does this genealogy trace the ancestry to Joseph if he is not the genetic father of Jesus? According to the tradition, Jesus was the son of Joseph's virgin wife. Apparently this inconsistency does not trouble Matthew. Jesus can descend from Abraham and David and forty others and still be born without any blood connections (as we understand it) to Joseph.
* Matthew 1:18-24. Betrothal — the pledge to marry — was more binding then than engagement is to us now. Mary already was considered to belong to Joseph in betrothal. He wants to divorce her quietly, to hurt her as little as possible. He must have been baffled by his dream. But he trusts the Lord's word. Incidentally, God uses dreams five times in the first two chapters. These dreams insure that God's divine purpose is not frustrated and Jesus' safety is assured.
The names given to Mary and Joseph's child are important. They foreshadow what the whole Gospel will proclaim. Actually, these names are profound theological statements: Jesus, the way of salvation from sin; Immanuel, the incarnation of God with us.
* Matthew 2. What an incredible surprise that the Christ should be born unannounced. And Matthew implies in his Gospel that leaders of Israel failed their watching and waiting. Should they have been more attentive?
The rising star (2:2) is Matthew's way of saying that the very heavens marked the birth of Immanuel. This birth was truly a cosmic event. Divine guidance is given to those who would come to worship and pay homage.
"[Herod] was disturbed" (verse 3). His rage and cruelty (verses 16-18) show how Jesus threatens all entrenched worldly power. The Herods are one of the most monstrous families history has ever seen. One of Herod's sons torments Jesus at his trial and adds his power to the forces that brought Jesus to his death (Luke 23:6-15a).
Matthew quotes the Old Testament four times in Chapter 2 (verses 5, 15, 17, 23) and once in Chapter 3 to account for what happens to the infant Jesus. Matthew refers to the Old Testament as a device. He declares that the salvation history of the Jews is preparation for fulfillment in Christ. God's promise is unbroken from Abraham to the present.
* Matthew 3:1-12. For John to call these people a "brood of vipers" when they come to be baptized seems rude. He denounces them as snakes. This implies that they are descended from the great snake, Satan himself. John believed piety without repentance was a great sin. John saw this unrepentant piety in these people.
If we read verses 7-12 carefully, we hear three themes that Jesus will later repeat. The first theme used by John is the denunciation of the Pharisees and Sadducees. In Chapter 23, we will find Jesus raising the same indignation that John first sounds here. The second theme used by John also uses the metaphor "every tree that does not produce good fruit" (verse 10). Jesus speaks these very words in the Sermon on the Mount (7:19). In 12:33-34, Jesus even uses the phrase "brood of vipers."
The third theme used by John (3:12) and later picked up and developed by Jesus is the separation of wheat and chaff. Jesus brings this theme to its fullest development in the disconcerting parables of the last judgment in Chapter 25. John the Baptist, blunt and frightening, may not be anyone we would like to invite home to Sunday dinner. But even this brief appearance leaves no doubt how important he was in preparing the way of Jesus.
* Matthew 3:13-17. Why would Jesus come to be baptized? Certainly not because he had sins that needed to be washed away. And surely he was not there to be baptized as a disciple of John. Jesus was there because all Israel was called to this baptism. Ordinarily Jews were not baptized, except persons who converted from another faith. But here the whole nation was called to a cleansing. They had fallen so far from fidelity to the covenant they needed to begin as fresh converts. Jesus understood that he was required to identify with God's people altogether. His baptism was a way to "fulfill all righteousness," of doing what God asked of this whole nation.
Who saw the Spirit descending like a dove (3:16)? The voice, "This is my Son, whom I love," is seemingly spoken only to Jesus. Those words, taken from Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1, make an unmistakable claim about Jesus. No one would think of quoting those passages unless in reference to the Messiah. Everything that follows in the whole Gospel takes its course from this claim.
We have learned in these three chapters that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah). This fulfills all the earlier covenants between God and Israel. This Messiah will save God's people from the power of their sins. In him, God has come to be with the people of the covenant. Jesus has come to call people to bear the good fruit befitting repentance.
DIMENSION THREE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN TO ME?
Sometimes we receive correspondence that closes with the familiar letters R.S.V.P. ("please reply"). The Gospels are communications with an R.S.V.P. both at the end and posted throughout. What do we find in these chapters that seems to be an R.S.V.P. for us? We should ponder at least the following three things: a genealogy, a murder, and a call to repent.
Matthew 1:1-17 — Genealogy From Abraham to Jesus
Forty-two generations stretch between Abraham and Jesus. If we count four generations to a century, then eighty of our ancestors lie between Jesus' life and ourselves. Think carefully about that — just eighty people in a human chain reaching across the centuries. No one traces their ancestry back to Jesus. And spiritual ancestry can come through those who stand outside direct descent to us. But to consider the eighty who have gone before us in an unbroken line is reason for thanksgiving.
Matthew gives us forty-two names. Some of these people were notable persons in history. Most of them were ordinary people. They provide the transmission line from Abraham to Jesus. How much we owe to their faithfulness and courage! And the debt goes on to the eighty who have joined the line since Jesus. Who were the persons who are our ancestors? What did they endure? In what ways can we be thankful for their existence? Thank God for ordinary people. None of them were perfect, but without them we would not be where and what we are.
Matthew 2:16-18 — Murder
Have you ever thought of those innocent children dying because they happened to be born within two years of Jesus' birth? Evil incarnate in the murder of children! And how much suffering, inexplicable and unjustified, the world has witnessed. Let us beware of finding easy answers to evil, or even any answers at all. Perhaps the whole Gospel of Matthew will help us find ways of dealing with it. Can faith help to see us through? Can we ignore the stories in the Bible that tell of evil and suffering? How do we deal with stories about child abuse and the sexual exploitation of children?
Matthew 3:2, 8 — Fruit That Befits Repentance
Can we imagine John the Baptist preaching any differently today? And why should he? John looked around at the lives of those who came out in "repentance." He failed to see any fruit commensurate with their penitence. He failed to see any fruit that corresponded to the sins of which they were supposedly repenting. Would he see us any differently? If people have defrauded the innocent, they need to repay. If out of fear they have refused to act when the times called for decision, they need to pray for courage. If they have harbored grudges in anger when reconciliation could have taken place, they need to go and be reconciled. What kind of fruit might befit the repentance we need?
TEMPTATIONS, THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT
DIMENSION ONE: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY?
Answer these questions by reading Matthew 4
1. Where do the temptations of Jesus occur? (4:1)
2. How long do the temptations last? (4:2)
3. What is the first temptation? (4:3)
4. Why does Jesus resist the first temptation? (4:4)
5. What is the second temptation? (4:5-6)
6. Why does Jesus resist the second temptation? (4:7)
7. What does the devil promise Jesus with the third temptation? (4:8-9)
8. What is the third temptation? (4:8-9)
9. Why does Jesus resist the third temptation? (4:10)
10. When does Jesus return to Galilee? (4:12)
11. Where does Jesus go to live in Galilee? (4:13)
12. How does Jesus begin his preaching? (4:17)
13. What two sets of brothers does Jesus call? (4:18-21)
14. What does Jesus do as he goes about Galilee? (4:23)
Answer these questions by reading Matthew 5
15. Where is Jesus when he gives this sermon, and to whom is he speaking? (5:1)
16. How many beatitudes does he speak? (5:1-11)
17. Which beatitude does Jesus address to the disciples? (5:11)
18. Why are the disciples told to let their light shine? (5:16)
19. What inner attitude does Jesus say makes a person subject to judgment? (5:22)
20. How does Jesus say one can commit adultery? (5:28)
21. According to Matthew, does Jesus permit divorce on any grounds? (5:32)
22. How are Jesus' followers to be? (5:48)
DIMENSION TWO: WHAT DOES THE BIBLE MEAN?
* Matthew 4:1-2. What an abrupt contrast from the uplifting brightness of Jesus' baptism to the threatening shadows of the temptation! The Spirit moves with Jesus from one event to the other (3:16; 4:1). Jesus sees the Spirit descending on him at his baptism. The Spirit then leads him "at once" (Mark 1:12) into temptation. Why? Why would God's Holy Spirit lead Jesus into temptation?
* Matthew 4:1-11. For one thing, when we use the word temptation we generally mean "to entice to commit some immoral act." But temptation here is more like "testing." And is it not essential that Jesus test his call and his baptism as the beloved Son? As the Christ, he will face many opportunities to use his power in ways that would deny God's purposes. The temptations are really a testing of Jesus' obedience to God and how he will use the gift of the power of his Sonship.
We can better understand what the three temptations mean to Jesus by looking at his replies to the devil. To the temptation to turn stones into bread Jesus responds, "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God." Jesus is hungry in that scorching desert. He feels in his hunger the terrible hunger of the world. He remembers the hunger of the Israelites during the Exodus. He then recalls God's word to them (Deuteronomy 8:3). These words are crucial for Jesus now. A full stomach is not enough.
Jesus answers the temptation to perform a sign (4:5) by telling the devil, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Deuteronomy 6:16). The Israelites, while wandering in the desert, tested God to prove the covenant promises (Exodus 17:1-7). This Jesus will not do.
To the temptation to worship the devil, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy 6:13-14. This verse is really a restatement of the first commandment. If Jesus gave his allegiance to the devil, even if he thereby gained the whole world, it would not be for God. He would in the end lose both his soul and the kingdoms of the world.
Under the old covenant, Israel was frequently called God's Son (Hosea 11:1). Now Jesus hears himself called Son of God. Remembering the failure of Israel's faith long before, Jesus must not fail these same tests as God's beloved Son. The devil was an opposing spirit, one who tempts persons to do evil and thus thwarts God's will. When Jesus dismisses him (4:10) he calls him Satan.
* Matthew 4:12a, 17. Some events have an effect on history far beyond the moment the event happens. Caesar crossed the Rubicon; Roman history took a new course. Fifty-six men in Philadelphia, in 1776, signed a Declaration of Independence. The whole world has changed. Herod arrested John the Baptist and set forces in motion that turned the world upside down. According to Christian faith, Jesus' preaching, which began when John was arrested, signaled the near approach of a kingdom that would alter the face of affairs on earth. Verses 12 and 17 mark a decisive turning point not only for Israel, but for the world.
* Matthew 4:13-16. But why did Jesus begin in Galilee? Galilee had an enormous population. One of the great highways of the ancient world ran through Galilee. It carried the influence of that world into Israel. Galilee was probably the most fertile field for the gospel in Palestine. Moreover, it was heavily Gentile in its racial and ethnic make-up. Matthew frequently emphasizes the universal appeal of the gospel. Galilee was a natural beginning place.
* Matthew 4:17. Jesus and John both make a promise (the kingdom of God is fast approaching) and a demand (repent).
* Matthew 4:18-21. Simon (Peter) and Andrew, and James and John stand out among the Twelve. We see and hear them more than any of the others. Were they waiting for Jesus' call? Was Jesus so compelling that they left everything at once "and followed him"? Simon, Andrew, James, and John were ordinary men. We do not have any record that they were morally bad at the time they were called. Jesus calls those persons who are morally upright as well as Matthew the tax collector whose morals are questionable.
* Matthew 4:23-25. In these three verses, Matthew summarizes the whole ministry of Jesus. Jesus is proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He is instructing the congregations in their synagogues. And he is restoring people to health.
Excerpted from "Genesis to Revelation: Matthew Participant Book"
Copyright © 2017 Abingdon Press.
Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Jesus' Birth, Infancy, and Baptism (Matthew 1–3),
2. Temptations, The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 4–5),
3. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6–7),
4. The Healings (Matthew 8–9),
5. The Conditions of Discipleship (Matthew 10–11),
6. Parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 12–13),
7. You Are the Messiah (Matthew 14–16),
8. Transfiguration and Church Discipline (Matthew 17–19),
9. Journey to Jerusalem (Matthew 20–21),
10. Conflict in Jerusalem (Matthew 22–23),
11. Apocalypse and Judgment (Matthew 24–25),
12. The Trial of Jesus (Matthew 26),
13. Crucified and Risen (Matthew 27–28),