[September 21, 2008] In the Gospels we remember Jesus through the eyes of others, others who saw and heard and touched Him, and because of the Holy Spirit, when we do this He becomes present to us. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him, He is present both in the Word and within ourselves and we enjoy Him very tangibly as our food. We gather as His church and, in this act of hearing and eating and fellowship, He makes us become His church.
Each gospel has collected material about Jesus and organized it differently to present us with another way of looking at Jesus. In the four gospels we see Jesus from four different angles. The Gospel according to Matthew is very organized into clearly marked sections. I have been teaching you how to read Matthew in context. Instead of taking each story and saying separately, we have been trying to see them as beads on a string. The best way to hear the nugget is always to be mindful of the string. Of all the gospels, Matthew makes it the easiest because his sections are the most obvious.
In the beginning (chapters 1-2) we read of Jesus’ special birth: He is Emmanuel, but also the Son of David, the hope of the Gentiles and one like Moses. Then (3:1—4:17) in perfect obedience He goes to be baptized and receives a revelation from heaven that He is God’s Son, the Beloved, singled out as the One in whom God has found His delight—and by allusion and implication, He is the promised Messiah—and He is anointed with the Holy Spirit for this task. He is tested in the wilderness and emerges, announcing to Israel that the kingdom of the heavens has at last come, come in His own person. He is the sphere (the place) of the kingdom of the heavens. At once (4:18—8:1) He calls people into His sphere, and in the Sermon on the Mount He describes this place of blessedness—where we are under the government of the Father. After this (8:2—11:1), by means of story and teaching, Matthew shows us the mission—Jesus and His disciples’ mission to call people to Himself, to the kind of faith that means allegiance and commitment to Himself. Then in the chapters that follow (11:2—13:53), by means of story and parables, Matthew shows us the people’s reaction to Jesus. They don’t get it. Do we?
A New Section
Now we come to a new section. If we do not follow the string and where it leads, we may think the stories here are disjointed, not having much to do with each other. Then we may miss their point. But we have been able to follow the beads along the string thus far. It is like our thumb and forefinger are holding the string and we have a bunch of beads on the string in front of us. We do not want to let the beads slip off. There has to be something holding the string further down, creating some tension. Then, as we go from bead to bead we will not lose the string as they slide off and fall on the floor. So if the stories in the next few chapters are like beads, where are they headed? What is this section leading to? This place to which they are heading is kind of a climax. Everything heads up to it and flows from it.
This place is at the foot of Mount Hermon in the town of Caesarea Philippi outside of the territory of Galilee (16:13-17). Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus says, “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in the heavens.” This makes sense. We were prepared for this from the very beginning of the gospel. If you miss this, then you miss everything.
This is also pivotal. What follows is very significant. Not only does the Father reveal to Peter who Jesus is, but in response Jesus says, “Upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He reveals the CHURCH. Jesus has spoken of the kingdom but He has not revealed the church, not until this point. It had to wait until Peter’s confession. It is the same with us. From then on, at least until Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, Matthew never leaves the subject of the church. Notice, however, that it is not until Jesus reveals the church that He reveals the CROSS. You cannot have the church without the cross. If you understand what the church is, then you will understand the necessity of the cross. As soon as Jesus reveals the cross, He goes up Mount Hermon and is transfigured before a select group of disciples, and they finally see the glory of the kingdom of the heavens. This did not happen until after Jesus revealed the cross and the church. Only after this does another long teaching section follow, from 17:22—20:16, about the church in the light of the kingdom.
This crescendo is where Matthew’s gospel has been taking us from the beginning. It is very important for us because we are the church, confessing His name, created by the Lord’s suffering on the cross. And if we are the church, we are the church in the light of the kingdom. Also, it is through the church that God will achieve His purpose in the kingdom of the heavens, which is the redemption of creation. This peak is where the section of Matthew that begins with 13:54 is heading.
One Like Moses
If you know your Bible well, and have in mind the whole broad outline of the Old Testament, you might see patterns here. Every Jew knows the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, inside and out. They were taught it from their mother’s knees. When God speaks on the Mount of Transfiguration and says, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in whom I have found My delight. Hear Him!” they would hear the allusions to Psalm 2 and Isaiah 42, but they would also hear the words, “Hear Him!” which in Hebrew is sh’ma, the words that every Jew repeated to himself daily, even several times a day: “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One.” But they would also remember the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, “A Prophet will the LORD your God raise up from you from your midst, from among your brothers, like me; you shall listen to Him.” In Hebrew, the word “listen” is sh’ma, the same word the disciples heard on the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus is like Moses, only He is the fulfillment while Moses is the pattern. Just as God revealed to Moses the pattern of priestly sacrifice and of God’s dwelling place on earth, Jesus reveals to His disciples the cross and the church.
Nazareth: “One from Among Your Brothers” (Matthew 13:54-58)
Now let us approach today’s reading (Matthew 13:53—14:21). This section begins where the last section ends, with Jesus being unrecognized and unappreciated by the people. If we think of Jesus as one like Moses, we will recall the people’s questioning of Moses, “Who appointed you a ruler and a judge over us?” (Exodus 2:14), and later, when Moses returned to Egypt and announced that God had sent him to deliver them. At first they were impressed: “All the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the children of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, they bowed and worshiped” (4:31). But as soon as Moses spoke to Pharaoh and Pharaoh resisted, the people changed their tune. “The Lord look upon you and judge, because you have made us odious in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants so as to put a sword in their hand to kill us” (5:22). It says Moses spoke to the children of Israel, but they did not listen to him (6:10). Likewise, when Jesus returned home, the people were impressed by his wisdom and works of power, but they were also unimpressed because, well, who does He think He is? After all, He is only one of us and we have seen Him grow up among us. And, like the people thought with Moses, nothing has really changed. Herod is still the ruler! In fact things seems to be getting worse!
We may be deaf to Jesus because we presume that we know Him. If we really “hear Him” we will humble ourselves and open our minds and hearts. Jesus needs to become new to us. We need to see Him afresh and be astonished. We need to let Him speak to us personally, take us by the scuff of our neck and wake us up. The church in America has fallen asleep. Have we?
Herod: One Like Pharaoh (14:1-13a)
The next horrible story is about Herod and his cruelty. This Herod is the son of the Herod who slaughtered the children in Bethlehem, which clearly reminds us of how Pharaoh killed the children of Israel at the time of Moses’ birth. In the book of Acts another Herod will persecute the church and kill James the son of Zebedee. Herod’s greed and lust and abuse of power, his calloused disregard for the things of God, and his utter insecurity in the face of his peers is a picture of the world of which Satan is the ruler.
The death of John the Baptist foreshadows the path in front of Jesus. Jesus did not deliver John from prison, nor will He deliver Himself from the hand of Pilate. While Nazareth (representing Israel) does not recognize Jesus, Herod (representing the world) is hostile towards Jesus, and Jesus will allow it. The way of the cross does not permit us to oppose the hostility of the world. The world will be overcome, but not by force or worldly power.
Jesus withdraws into the desert. From this point Jesus begins to leave Galilee. His ministry in Galilee is over. Galilee has become like Egypt to Him, and He takes His disciples into the wilderness.
Feeding the People in the Wilderness (14:13b-21)
If we are comparing Jesus to Moses, it is not surprising that Jesus now feeds the people in the wilderness. In Exodus 16, before Israel reached Mount Sinai, they started their wilderness journey and God fed them with manna from heaven. In John 6, Jesus compares His feeding the crowd with the loaves and fishes to God feeding the people with manna.
This comparison is interesting. But try to appreciate what it means. The people flock to Jesus but do not repent. They will not commit themselves to Him. He has withdrawn from them. Yet here He is, moved with compassion, healing their sick and meeting their hunger. We are being shown something important here. We are being shown the answer to the implicit question in Nazareth and with Herod (14:2) is, “Who is He?” (It is answered in 16:16.)
From the time when Jesus first presented Himself to Israel (Matthew 4:17), He has been announcing the kingdom of the heavens and calling people to repentance. He has been making an absolute demand. We must give ourselves to God in total allegiance to Him. Yet the people did not respond except to get offended, and the authorities have gotten nervous. “No one knows who the Son is, nor does anyone know the Father,” Jesus said in 11:27.
Yet now He responds to the people in utter grace, without demanding anything of them except that they receive of His bounty. The kingdom is about what God demands. But here we see what God gives. The kingdom has to do with God’s rule, God’s overcoming and God’s purpose. The church has to do with God’s grace. Before Jesus reveals the church, He shows His coming in grace. The people have essentially rejected Him, and yet here He is, loving them and meeting their hunger without demanding anything.
He demands something of His disciples, “You give them something to eat” (verse 16), but they are not ready. In the book of Acts, in the church, they will give the people something to eat. We also are called to feed the people.
In John 6 Jesus says that this is a picture of what happens in the church. He gives us Himself to eat. He gives us His human living (6:32-51a), His death (6:51b-55), resurrection (6:56-59), ascension (6:60-62), and even His Spirit (6:63-65). In the church we come to Christ by grace and He feeds us with Himself through His word and supper. He satisfies our hunger. The manna in the wilderness foreshadows the abundance of food in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. The more we eat Christ, the more we are satisfied, the more there is to satisfy us, and the more room He makes inside of us to fill us. We gather in the church, to enjoy and be filled with Christ.
The church, though, is a matter of God’s grace and not our works. We do not earn or merit it. There is nothing here that we deserve. We are all equally undeserving and unable to qualify ourselves. Christ alone choses us, calls us, gives to us and qualifies us. Apart from this abundance of grace, we cannot know the kingdom of Christ. What we do is this: stop our striving and give ourselves to Him in faith, in allegiance and commitment. But when we choose Christ, we are not performing a good work, we are not doing Him a favor so that now we merit His love. No, He does everything. Even our faith is His gift.