New series for 2017 – The Gospel of Matthew. Chapter 1 (Helen Baker on 15 January 2017)
This week, as I was reading various articles, I was struck by 3 that I read in one morning, all talking about the pressure that our churches put us under to do more, be more, think more, understand more, change more.
I read an article from an American pastor who despaired of the fact that church made him feel he was never ‘good enough’ – not holy enough, not active in the community enough, too sinful. This was not a criticism of any one church, it was the fact that we are all under pressure to ‘be like Jesus.’ And of course, ideally, that is our aim – to be the best disciples of Jesus we can be. To leave behind our human sins and look to Jesus as our model and our pattern. Only last week I explained to you how Jesus’s humanity allows us to understand that we share his DNA, and that we’re invited to be a part of the movement of the Holy Trinity.
But what this guy was saying is that he feels constantly ashamed that he can’t keep up with the expectation. What he was also saying, was that the underlying reason for this, is the pretence that every one else puts up, that we are actually living up to these expectations. He put it like this: ‘There’s this ardent love and commitment to Jesus that’s just dripping from everybody’s lips with such eloquent and Jesus-flavoured verbosity. And here I am—riddled with serious doubts and questions, embarrassed that I’m not feeling nearly as into Jesus as apparently I should.’
This, along with the other articles made me stop in my tracks. Because I know that I have asked a huge amount of you all during the last couple of years. I’ve asked you to tolerate changes to how we worship God, and the structure of services. I’ve asked you to think about how we respond to our community in the light of our faith. I’ve asked you to find money, gifts, time, to give to others. I’ve asked you to pray and talk about what we do next. I know these are not all new things. I know you have faithfully served the church and community in lots of ways over the years. But we have new programmes, more outreach, additional bible study and extra plans for more things to do. I’m conscious that in asking so much of you all I may also be adding pressure to your lives, and doubt to your faith. This is not my intention, and most certainly it’s not my desire. Rather, I want us to feel satisfied that we are doing what we are called by God to do, that we are doing it well, and not doing more than we are able. In doing that, I hope that you know that Jesus is well pleased. Nowhere in the bible does it say ‘do more – enough for you is not enough for me’.
Our time together on a Sunday morning should be a time of rest and re-filling: A time to reconnect with God. A time not only to get right with God, but to get to know God even more, and be ever more filled, through Jesus Christ. So over the coming weeks and months we are going to study the Gospel of Matthew so that we can understand in new and fresh ways that Jesus is ‘good news. I want this series to refresh you, inform and inspire you. I hope it will deepen your personal relationship with Him. So I hope you can rest now, as I remind you why following Jesus is good news for you!
Matthew wrote his gospel for the Jewish people. He wrote in a language and in a style and using concepts designed to appeal to those who knew the Old Testament and whose thought world had been formed by allegiance to the God of Israel.
If you think about the Old Testament, you know that from beginning to end and all in between, one of its primary messages is that God is sending a saviour for the world. This is what the Jews understood and expected. Matthew’s focus was on making sure that they understood that that saviour is Jesus.
Matthew is the first book of the New Testament because what it does is to provide a bridge from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Of all the gospels, Matthew alone is careful to show that Jesus is the saviour that was foretold in the Old Testament. If the first hearers of Matthew’s gospel were Jews who had converted to Christianity… or were thinking about converting then they had to understand that Jesus was a part of God’s plan.
As we go through this gospel over the coming weeks, you will quickly see that Matthew is going to use one image in particular over and over in his gospel, and that image is the Kingdom. Over and over Matthew will talk about Jesus being the King. He will stress that the Kingdom of God is here now, and that Jesus is here, although the Kingdom won’t be completely here in all of its glory until Jesus returns again to crush Satan’s head once and for all.
Our goal is to become a part of this kingdom and to serve the king, and so Matthew will try to show us that we should give our lives to this king and be a part of his kingdom, for this is truly the Kingdom of Heaven.
What Matthew does not say is that we have to be equal to Jesus. When you feel under pressure to DO more and more, just remember; Jesus is king. We are asked to become a part of the kingdom – a part of the plan. We are asked to do our part, not Jesus’ part.
So that is an overview of why Matthew wrote the way he did, but for this morning, lets just look at the beginning few verses. Matthew begins his gospel with a long list of Jesus’ descendants. For the Jewish people; those to whom Matthew was writing, genealogy was very important. Who you were depended on who you came from. Matthew was able to show that Jesus fulfilled the scriptures; he was from the line of David, and he was from the line of Abraham.
As you know, David and Abraham are two very important men in the history of the Jews. Both of these men were given promises by God.
Abraham was the first person called by God. And he is vitally important in the history of Jesus’ line because when God called Abraham, he made him a promise. And we can read that promise in the same section where God calls Abraham, in Genesis 12:2-3,
Matthew also said that Jesus was the son of David. Why is this significant? Remember, Matthew is going to stress that Jesus is the promised King who is bringing in the new Kingdom, and David was the greatest king that Israel had ever had. David was a man after God’s own heart and was during David’s reign that Israel was at its finest. Under David the borders of Israel stretched the furthest, its influence was the greatest, its glory was the brightest. Even though David was very human and made some very big sins– he loved God with all his heart and God loved David in return. He loved David so much that he made a promise to him. God made this promise in 2 Samuel 7:16.
But then there was a very long gap. A time of hope and expectation, but also a time of war, exile, loss of faith and no sign of God’s promises being fulfilled.
As Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of son.” In the fullness of time God sent his son. He sent Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
That’s why this one verse at the very beginning of the New Testament deserves a whole sermon, for this one verse shows how Jesus came to answer all of God’s promises once and for all, not just for Israel, but for the whole world.
For from the time that man sinned in the Garden of Eden, God had two things that he intended to accomplish:
- He wanted to redeem his fallen people.
- He wanted to reclaim the world for His glory.
And you know what, he did both of these through Jesus Christ, as an answer to the promises to Abraham and to David.
Through Jesus, God has made a way to redeem every person on earth who would call upon his name. This son of Abraham has truly blessed every nation on earth. That’s one promise fulfilled.
But Jesus came to do more than redeem fallen humanity. He came to eradicate sin and reclaim his glory. That’s why this son of David came to be a king. He’s not on any earthly throne today. But he is the King of kings who sits on a heavenly throne and who will rule for all eternity.
That’s why it is so important that Matthew prove from the Old Testament that Jesus was descended from both David and Abraham, to show that he was the fulfillment of God’s promises to both these men. God promised to send his Son to save us, and although it took a long time, God kept that promise. God promises that his Son will return, and because he kept the first promise, we have faith that he will keep the second.
And that’s the Good News for us today. Because as Matthew shows us, Jesus was the son of Abraham, who has come to bless all nations of the earth. Jesus was also the son of David, who has come to be the king of our lives.
You can be a part of this promise, by making Jesus your king. That is all you have to do. It’s not a small thing to make Jesus your king. It requires dedication to learn and know Jesus more. But beyond that it only requires you to be you. Because God the Father, Son and Spirit loves you unconditionally already. You are good enough for him. The Father already sent the Son to save you. Nothing you can do will change that.
But you have to be the best version of you that you can. So I’m not asking more of you than I already have. I’m not asking you to do more than you can, give more than you can. And I’ll never tell you that what you do and who you are is not good enough because you are the person God made you to be. My call to you this morning, in the light of Matthew, is simply to recognize that Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the OT, and that if you are prepared to work on believing that, then you are already a part of the kingdom; you are already working with Jesus to bring his kingdom to earth. You are already serving the king. And the kingdom is here now, and the king is with us. Praise be to God.