The Gospel According to Matthew
First of all, what does the word “gospel” mean?
The “gospels” are the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The word “gospel” is not a type of writing but the message about the life and teachings of Jesus. The term originated from the Greek euangelion, which means “good message,” and then into the Latin word evangelium, from which we derive our modern word for evangelism. Then the Old English word-for-word translation was god-spell, meaning “good news” or “glad tidings.”
Basically, gospel = good news
According to tradition, scholars assume that parts of the gospels circulated orally before being written down. They are unique; there is no other genre like them. The form of the gospels is similar to ancient or theological biographies, but their uniqueness has more to do with the content, the collection of stories and teachings from this man called Jesus, than the form in which they were written. Embedded within each gospel are individual subgenres - narratives, parables, discourse, dialogue, and biography.
As we read the gospels, we must remember that the authors are describing what they saw or heard from first-hand accounts. Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, following Him closely, doing life and ministry with Him daily for three years. Mark was an assistant and scribe to the Apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ twelve disciples, along with Matthew and John. And Luke, a physician, was an assistant and scribe to the Apostle Paul.
The Gospel of Matthew is the very first book of the New Testament and is known, along with Mark and Luke, as one of the three Synoptic Gospels because of their similarities. John’s gospel is unique in its style and stands in a category all on its own. John is different from the rest, written by someone close to and personal with Jesus. “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” (More to come on this later.)
Although the author of The Gospel of Matthew does not identify himself, it is believed by scholars to have been written by Matthew the Apostle before the destruction of the Jewish temple in AD 70. Matthew, also known as “Levi” (Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27), was a Jewish tax collector (Matthew 10:3) and one of the twelve disciples whom Jesus called to follow Him. Matthew’s close attention to detail regarding numbers and money is evidence of his vocation (see 17:24-27; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 26:15; 27:3-10; 28:11-15).
Matthew wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience, evidenced by an emphasis on Jesus being the promised Messiah. The original audience was intended for Jewish Christians; some scholars consider Matthew the "most Jewish of the Gospels.” It was most likely written to a group of Jewish Christians living outside of Palestine, who, along with their deep love for their Jewish heritage, shared the hope of a messiah who would save and restore them. They were looking for a king who would usher in this new Kingdom, and according to Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of this collective Jewish desire.
His gospel includes technical and legal aspects of Jewish tradition and Mosaic Law. The first chapter of Matthew's gospel begins with the genealogy of Jesus, establishing His Jewish kingship as a direct descendent and rightful heir to King David's throne. Kingship and the Kingdom of Heaven are essential themes throughout Matthew's gospel.
Matthew begins his gospel with the list of Jesus' ancestors and his miraculous birth and early life, establishing his credibility, which leads to Jesus' ministry and the gathering of his first disciples. Crowds began to follow Jesus as He traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in synagogues and announcing the Good News about this new Kingdom.
The Gospel of Matthew also contains Jesus' most famous teaching, the Sermon on the Mount, which includes the Beatitudes, also one of the most widely quoted passages of scripture. It depicts the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus came to establish, where the poor are blessed, those who mourn are comforted, and the humble inherit the whole earth. The Sermon on the Mount is also called Jesus' Sermon on Discipleship due to its practical emphasis on everyday living.
“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
God blesses those who are humble,
for they will inherit the whole earth.
God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they will be satisfied.
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
God blesses those whose hearts are pure,
for they will see God.
God blesses those who work for peace,
for they will be called the children of God.
God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right,
Matthew does not explain Jewish customs because he assumes the reader already understands them. As the crowds gathered to hear Jesus speak, he almost depicts Jesus as a sort of New Moses as He climbs to the top of the mountainside, sits down, and begins to teach. Jesus has announced the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and now begins to teach what it truly means to be His disciples. Jesus completely flips the script; instead of teaching about attaining power, royalty, success, etc., He teaches what it truly means to live a blessed life. According to Jesus, it's not possessions or prestige who have honor, but the poor, along with those who mourn and those who are rejected by man but blessed by God. The rules of the game have changed. The ways of this Kingdom are above the law of Moses, as they speak to the heart and the intentions, not merely people's behavior. Jesus calls His followers to a higher standard of righteousness than the law demanded, higher than we could ever fulfill in our strength, but through His fulfillment of it.
The Sermon on the Mount is one of the essential teachings of Jesus, laying down the rules of the new Kingdom that He came to establish. Matthew wants us to know that even though Israel’s Messiah has been rejected by the very people He came to save, His Kingdom was and still is like nothing we can imagine or enforce. Our righteousness is reconfigured. We are not made righteous by works and sacrifice but by His sacrifice, for He was the only One holy enough to fulfill it. Jesus' authority transcended all who came before Him, yet He displayed His Kingship by laying down His life for all. He saved the world by dying for it. Our Messiah King came to serve, not to be served, and we must go and do likewise.