As we return to the book of Matthew, we must make sure we keep a tight hold on the major concepts of our last two discussions. I will repeat them again because the more we see them and read through them, the more we may think of them, realizing that they are concepts that should lie at the basis of our thinking on every aspect of life.
GOSPEL – the good news that the God-man Jesus Christ, through his sinless life, sacrificial death, and resurrection to life, accomplished our redemption from sin and death so that through faith in who he is and what he did, we may, by his application of atonement, be justified and may also realize the hope of everlasting resurrected life.
KINGDOM – the resurrection in purity of God’s creation.
HOPE – the completion of the Kingdom, marking everlasting life in relationship with God
Note that the “also” of the last predicate in the Gospel statement relates to the resurrection to life of Jesus. Jesus was the firstfruits of the resurrection. By his atonement, we may also realize the hope of everlasting resurrected life. Also note the distinction between the Kingdom and the Christian Hope. The Kingdom is composed of all God’s resurrected creation. The Hope is for the completion of that resurrection marking everlasting life with God.
These elements—gospel, kingdom, and hope—are entwined in the metanarrative (the overall, big story) of the Bible. The Bible shows us God’s plan for creation. It is not a plan God formulated only to be revised after sin. It is not a plan that is thwarted at various points along the way requiring God to adjust, modify, find an alternate way, or in some other fashion to fix. We are not in God’s Plan B (or C, or D, etc.). That kind of thinking would wreak havoc with any conception of sovereignty we may have for God. No, God is sovereign, and he therefore developed and maintains his one plan for all creation.
That one plan for creation has a purpose. In other words, God created for a purpose to which end his plan points. He created for the purpose of having everlasting life relationship with a creation that imaged him. Thus, God created us in his image. That image includes the following elements:
1. Effective Volition
2. Conceptual Intelligence
3. Creative Imagination
4. Moral Consciousness
5. Relational Love
6. Perfect Righteousness
The indention has a purpose. These elements are bounded by elements which have direct impact on the others. If, for example, we remove the first element—effective volition—from the list, elements 2 through 5 can no longer exist. In other words, if love in truth and purity exists, it cannot be coerced, but must be present based on the will. So also does creative imagination lose all meaning if the will is absent and God must infuse the imaginative thoughts into his creation. Effective Volition, then, is required for the others to exist.
On the other end, the removal of Perfect Righteousness would debilitate the others. And that is, in fact, what occurred with the entrance of sin in the Garden. With sin, Perfect Righteousness was lost. Thus, intelligence, imagination, moral awareness, and love were marred—not destroyed (we still bear the image though somewhat skewed), but nevertheless, marred.
God’s plan, then, which has a purpose of effecting an everlasting love relationship with a creation of his image, must necessarily involve the changing of marred creation back to his image, which includes perfect righteousness. That is the basis for the whole story. So then, it is not that the OT is something separate, different, and unrelated to the New Covenant in Christ. The OT isn’t primarily about old Israel, ancient history, or important things that happened before Jesus. Of course, old Israel is involved in the OT, as are ancient history and other important things. But the OT is primarily about God’s plan for restoration just as much as is the NT. And at the pinnacle of it all is Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, the one who will effect the change back to the image of God.
Thus the plan of God as seen throughout the Bible includes these steps or milestones:
But the way we should view these steps is exactly as Matthew presents them—not in chronological order, but through the working of the Messiah.
The whole story concerns a conflict between God and Humanity. It is a conflict of faith. Perfect righteousness was lost in the Garden when Adam and Eve removed faith/trust in God and made themselves the adjudicators of truth, goodness, and beauty. That same trust in self/humanity is the foundation of evil ever since. We see it in the Tower of Babel, raised to exalt humanity. We see it in Israel’s failures, constantly pursuing their self-devised programs for relief and greatness rather than following God. And we see it also all the way through Revelation as the exaltation of self/humanity (the Beast—the Antichrist) divides the earth-dwellers from the heaven-dwellers.
And so comes the Messiah—the God-Man. We saw his authority and humility in his ministry as the temptations hit and in his sermon on the mount. And then in chapter 8, Matthew backs up his sermon authority with his miracles of authority.
Those first three miracles in chapter 8 each contain elements that connect them to a demonstration of Christ’s authority. Matthew takes care to tell us that the leper knelt before Christ in humility. The centurion speaks right to the subject of Christ’s authority in healing. Christ heals Peter’s mother-in-law with a touch, and Matthew tells us specifically that she rose to serve him.
Following the miracles of authority, are two incidents that help transition the thought from authority to the reason for Christ’s authority—God’s preeminence. A scribe tells Christ he will follow him. Christ, seeing the scribe’s lust for acclaim and importance (the age-old exaltation of self rather than God), reveals that following God means giving up of self rather than gaining acclaim. The next follower acknowledges the worthiness of Christ’s message, but attempts to list it alongside other endeavors he deems worthy. But Christ rebukes this idea. Following God is preeminent.
The idea of God’s preeminence thus introduced, Matthew presents a trio of miracles that extend the concept. Christ commands the wind and the sea, showing power over the physical world. He crosses the sea and meets a man possessed. Christ shows his power over the spiritual world by sending out the demons (to the astounded fear of the area people). Thirdly, Christ heals the paralytic. In this healing, his first words forgive the man his sins. The scribes (perhaps friends of the one who was before rebuffed by Jesus) privately accuse him of blasphemy. But Jesus catches them in their faulty logic. He asks which is easier to say—your sins are forgiven or rise and walk. His point appears to be that both statements are equal because both statements rest firmly on the power of God. His healing rested on the power of God and everyone accepted his healing. His forgiveness would also necessarily rest on the power of God, but the scribes, believing forgiveness was an act of God, scorned Christ for this statement. Jesus, then, proved that God was with him in his statement to forgive by showing that God was with him in his healing as he enabled the paralytic to rise and walk.
Again, Matthew brings in a couple more incidents for the purpose of transition. First, he tells of how Christ called him. Matthew’s first act was to invite Christ to a meal to which he also invited his friends—other tax-gathers and sinners. Matthew wanted them to hear the same life-changing words that had worked in his heart. Christ eats with them, and the Pharisees are offended. They scornfully wonder how a teacher of Godliness could consort with sinners. Christ tells them that he is sent to sinners—those who need healing. But in his answer, Christ refers them to a passage in Hosea 6. In that passage, the on again off again faithfulness of Israel and Judah is rebuked by God. And God says he desires steadfast love (Masoretic text) or mercy (Septuagint) rather than sacrifice. Christ quotes the Septuagint, telling the Pharisees to learn about this statement. Mercy is how God showed his steadfast love to Israel even when Israel wandered away. And mercy is the reason Christ sat with the sinners in Matthew’s home.
Matthew next recounts a question put to Christ by John the Baptist’s disciples concerning fasting. Matthew’s goal is not to teach about fasting, but rather to show Christ’s answer in transitioning from the idea of God’s preeminence to our resultant activity in mission. Christ says that his disciples do not fast because he is with them. The OT point of fasting was in looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. And so, the Messiah being then there, his disciples have no point in fasting.
But Christ also says that there will come a time for them to fast. This is an idea not understood previously in the OT community. Christ’s advent was for the purpose of accomplishing redemption. But he would go away as his kingdom was built, returning later to complete the resurrection of God’s people. During that kingdom-building time, his followers would again fast, but at that time with a new outlook or point to their fasting. Thus, the new wine in old wineskin illustration spoke to the new hope of resurrection as opposed to the old hope of accomplished redemption.
As the New Covenant follower awaits the resurrection, his/her focus is on the mission of the kingdom. This again fits exactly with Christ’s sermon of chapters 5-7. And Matthew then provides a series of miracles to show this mission. Christ brings the dead to life. And we see healings in conjunction with an act of faith (woman touching his garment), seeing by faith, and speaking by faith. And Matthew concludes the passage by telling of Christ going about with this kingdom message, illustrating it with the miracles of authority, God’s preeminence, and the kingdom mission.