Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Matthew Summary

The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story of God and of the Son, Jesus Christ, but obviously the New Testament is more directly about Jesus than the Old Testament. It’s in the New Testament that He is born, and then gives his life for us and raises himself from the dead; the event which completely changes God’s relationship with His people. The religion of the Old Testament, on the surface, seems like every other religion in the world: Do what God says and He will reward you, don’t do what He says and He will punish you. To the casual reader it really seems like a “works” religion like any other; you “earn” your favour with God by keeping His commandments. But then Jesus arrives and shows us explicitly what was only implicit in the Old Testament: We can’t keep God’s demands perfectly (which is how He demands them to be kept), which means that no matter how hard we try we are all in danger of God’s wrath. And then Jesus solves the problem for us by dying on our behalf, taking the punishment and wrath that was due to be lavished out on us, paying our way into God’s presence. This is called God’s Grace: we didn’t deserve it, but He did it for us anyway. Of course Jesus also shows us that this Grace was required even in the Old Testament, and God’s people back then couldn’t buy their way into His favour any more than we can.

The books which are the most directly about Jesus, of course, are the four Gospels, which tell of Jesus’ life: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Since it’s the first book of the New Testament, Matthew may very well be one of the more commonly read books of the Bible, and it’s definitely not a bad place to start because Matthew includes a lot of details about Jesus’ life, miracles, and teachings. (According to a comparison chart I found online it looks like Matthew is probably the most complete Gospel—followed closely by Luke—although it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison like that since each of the Gospels picks and chooses which episodes from Jesus’ life to chronicle.)

If I were more of a biblical scholar (or one at all) I’d probably be able to write about how Matthew differs from the authors of the other three Gospels, but I’m afraid my knowledge is not that deep. One post I found summed it up as well as any other; my paraphrasing would be:
  • Matthew: Focuses on Jesus as King, fulfilling the promises in the Old Testament regarding the Messiah
  • Mark: Action-packed version of the Gospel story, telling of Jesus the servant—willing to suffer and die for the sake of others
  • Luke: Focuses on the human side of Jesus, a man who was willing to make time for anyone, regardless of their state or stature in society
  • John: Focuses on Jesus as God, “written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31 (ESV))
That being said, because the four authors of the Gospels had four different perspectives, and even four different specific reasons for writing their books, one finds that different aspects of Jesus’ story are told in the four different books, and sometimes even the same story will have a different slant from book to book. Therefore it’s usually helpful to look at the notes in your Bible to find the same story in the other three Gospels, and read it in the different versions. (I think most Bibles have these types of linkages; at the very least study Bibles do.)

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