One way I like to read the bible is to learn a little bit about the book before reading it and follow a specific theme through the book. Each book of the bible has many different through lines and I find it helps make the bible feel fresh and new to me.
A book I like to use for the New Testament is “The Writings of the New Testament” by Luke Timothy Johnson. I conveniently own it from a class I took 10 years ago but if you are looking for more information about the books of the bible - I would definitely recommend this one.
You might have noticed that each of the gospels are different from the other. The first three gospel: Matthew, Mark, and Luke follow a more similar set of events. But each of them differ from one another as well. They were each written by different authors, writing to different audiences. And, thus, they each have stories and words of Jesus that are unique.
It is believed that Matthew was writing to a Jewish community trying to reconcile this new Jesus movement against their old covenant and practices. Matthew opens with a genealogy that most probably tracks Joseph’s lineage, connecting Jesus to King David and Abraham - thus giving reason for why Jesus is a legitimate Messiah and King.
Throughout Matthew you will see emphasis like this - the first few chapters mirror Moses life - a miraculous birth to save the Israelites, rescue from an evil King who slaughtered children, he sent off to Egypt and then brought out of Egypt. Jesus was then baptized, like the Isralites came through the Red Sea, and this was followed by a 40 day (40 years) wilderness temptation.
In each event, Jesus is shown to perfectly complete the tasks. This is something Israel was never able to do.
You might also notice Matthew’s focus on “the Kingdom” of God. There are several other distinctions but the one I am looking for while I read Matthew was brought to my attention by Luke Timothy Johnson. It is Matthew’s use of the word “Teacher” and “Lord”.
For those that interact with Jesus but do have no faith in him, they refer to Jesus as “Teacher/Rabbi”. But the disciples and those that are coming to faith refer to Jesus as “Lord”. If you are reading along in Matthew and see the word “teacher” you can be assured that Matthew is trying to tell you this person does not have faith in Jesus.
Judas uses the word Rabbi/Teacher at the last supper table while all the other disciples use the word Lord. And again, Judas greets Jesus with the word “Rabbi” when they come to arrest him.
The word Teacher/Rabbi is definitely a term of respect. Rabbi’s were a large part of spiritual formation within Jewish communities and men on importance. Disciples being called by a Rabbi to follow him was not an unusual occurrence. But I find Matthew’s use of the “teacher” and “Lord” really interesting. What is Matthew trying to say about those that have come to faith in Jesus. What is the difference between Teacher and Lord?
Our world has many teachers. Prominent Christan thinkers and writers, pastors and bloggers speak into our lives.. Many of them have been used to do God’s work in the world. Some have lots their way. They are human, after all.
In the secular world Jesus might be lumped together with other “great teachers” like Mohammed or Buddha. They might like some of Jesus’ wise sayings like, “Love your enemies” or “And the truth will set you free” - for example. But calling Jesus teacher or a wise man merely places him on equal level with all other great thinkers through history.
There is a difference between being a teacher and Lord.
Jesus wasn’t just a teacher. He is distinguished from other great thinkers in history because he claimed to be God. He was not just one way to interpret Torah or one way to live your life. He is THE interpretation of scripture. He is THE ONLY way to the Father. He is the WORD of God. He was there when the law was given to Moses and when the Universe was created. Jesus wasn’t just a teacher. He is Yahweh, the glory of God returning to the temple, the only way to the Father. Jesus is God incarnate.
And the word “Lord” implies a relationship more significant than a teacher-student relationship. Lord-servant relationship is one when a person surrenders their whole life to his rule: their land, their possessions, their crops, their money, etc belong to the Lord and the Lord, in turn, protects, cares for and provides for his servant.
Accepting Jesus’ reign over our lives involves a complete surrendering of our whole life to his reign. Every single aspect of our identity, our thoughts, our words, our choices, how we chose to live - each comes under his authority when we commit our lives to him. This is what is means to follow Jesus. This is what Jesus was asking of his disciples.
I remember a wonderful Children’s Minister that I had the opportunity to work with. Her approach to the concept of “sin” was that it should be explained to children (and adults) not as an issue of morality but an issue of Kingship. You are either King/Lord over your life or God is Lord over it. And sin is not just the all the bad things you do but it is when we chose to be King instead of letting Jesus be King. It is a position of heart, life, mind, will, body, soul, spirit. You are slave to either yourself or to God.
And here Matthew is making a similar comment. Matthew focuses on the Kingship of Jesus and places much emphasis on those that are a part of God’s Kingdom and those that are not.
I find this distinction convicting because although I have committed to following Jesus - I need to continually look at my own life and confess the areas where I am not allowing Jesus to be King, to be Lord. I am left with the question: have I truly turned all of my life to Jesus? What areas am I holding onto control of? What makes me so afraid of giving these to Jesus? What does Jesus have to say about it?
We don’t always feel comfortable with this kind of language because it feels oppressive and burdensome. But here is the great news - Jesus is the most wonderful King that one could ever have. His yoke is easy and his burden is light.
If you are reading through Matthew or perhaps only want to look at a few passages - I encourage you to spend time in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and find out just what kind of Lord/King Jesus is. in Matthew 5-7, Jesus paints a picture of what his Kingdom looks like, how people under his reign act, what they care about, and how they interact with the world around them. Could you relinquish control of your life to THIS King? The one in Matthew? Do you call him Teacher or Lord?
This is what I am thinking about this week.
What have you been noticing as you read through Matthew? I would love to hear what God is speaking to you about in the comments below.