The Four Gospels: Matthew
Preached: July 24, 2011
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
"I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north -- an immense cloud with flashing lightening and surrounding by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a man, and on the right side each had the face of lion, and on the left the face of an ox; each also had the face of an eagle" (Ezekiel 1:4-6, 10 NIV1984).
In this way the glory of the Lord appeared to the prophet Ezekiel while he lived along the Kebar River among the exiles from Jerusalem during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar. These four living creatures are later identified as cherubim (Ezekiel 10:17), a special kind of angel. In Ezekiel's vision they may picture God's power over all of creation.
But during the Middle Ages, the church used them to picture the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That symbolism is still used today. For example, the chapel at Martin Luther College in New Ulm incorporates them. Or closer to home, look at the new banners above the organ. So maybe it's good for us to take a little time to think about those symbols and the books of the Gospel.
Although we have four symbols and four books, there is only one Gospel. Just as all four faces belonged to each one of the cherubim, so also all four of these books, which we call the Gospels, proclaim one and the same Gospel.
What is that one, true Gospel? It is the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ, the promised Redeemer. The Good News that he is our divine Savior from sin and death. The Good News that he is our God, the eternal Son of the Father, who became flesh like us to take our place under God's Law, which we have broken. The Good News that he kept that Law perfectly for you so that his righteousness counts as yours. The Good News that he sacrificed himself on the cross in your place so that his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death redeems you. The Good News that he rose from the dead on the third day because God has justified sinners through his blood so that eternal life is yours through faith in Jesus alone.
This Good News proclaims that Jesus has done all this for you as a free gift given to the undeserving by God's grace alone without any strings attached at all. This Good News calls forth faith from our hearts to believe that forgiveness and eternal life are freely ours because of what Jesus has done for us. What Good News the Gospel is, the one, true, authentic Gospel!
So Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all proclaim the same Jesus and the same plan of salvation. After a brief introduction, they each tell us about various events from the three-years or so of Jesus' earthly ministry, beginning with his baptism by John. They record some of his sermons, parables, miracles, discussions. They show how the opposition against Jesus grows. The intensity builds up as Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Then Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reach their climax as they recount the Last Passover and the first Lord's Supper, as they tell us of Jesus words that night to his disciples and lead us Gethsemane, as they show us his arrest and condemnation, his crucifixion and death. Our Savior has died for us. And then they each proclaim his glorious resurrection, witnessed by many. Jesus is our living Savior. He is the Resurrection and the Life.
And we should not be surprised that all four are in harmony with each other. For although four different men wrote, there is only one author, namely the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself had promised his apostles, saying: "[T]he Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26 NIV1984). "When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13 NIV1984). That's why Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John do not contradict each other. That's why even though they wrote years later, you can be sure that what they wrote accurately records what happened. Forgetfulness or false memories did not plague them. For the Holy Spirit gave them the thoughts and the words to write down.
So always be clear: There is only one Gospel and it reveals the true Jesus and the only way of salvation, namely, only through faith in Jesus alone. For there is only one Author, the Holy Spirit, who reveals God's saving truth and through his written word brings that truth into your heart so that you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and through faith in him have eternal life in his name. That is the one purpose for each of these four books.
Yet the Holy Spirit used these individual writers according to their special gifts and skills, their unique backgrounds and varied circumstances. So each of the books has its own emphases, but still the same Gospel. They each have a particular audience to whom they want to bring home the Gospel and so choose their material accordingly. But the Holy Spirit guides all this, so that all of what they write is the truth and does not contradict the others.
These symbols can help us picture these complementary differences and appreciate how Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each have their unique styles and character as they present the one Gospel. Today we take a look at Matthew, in the weeks ahead we'll talk about Mark, Luke, and John.
The Gospel according to Matthew is pictured as a man, for Jesus is true man, born from David's family line. So Matthew begins by tracing the human ancestry of Jesus from Abraham to King David down to Joseph, Jesus' legal father. But Matthew also shows that Joseph is not the biological father. For Jesus is true God, born of the virgin, as Matthew makes clear when he recounts the angel's nighttime visit to Joseph after Mary has been found to be pregnant.
Now Matthew has good reason to trace Jesus' legal ancestry back to Abraham. He's writing for he fellow Jews. He wants to show them that Jesus is the Messiah whom their own Scriptures had foretold. He is the offspring the Lord swore to Abraham (Hebrews 6:13) and to David (Psalm 132:11) to give to them. So when you see the image of a man associated with Matthew, remember the human ancestry of Jesus. He was born a Jews, the promised Messiah, just as Moses and the prophets foretold.
Now even if Matthew first of all had his fellow Jews in mind as wrote, the words the Holy Spirit gave him touch our hearts as well. For we too, like the Jews of old, hold the Old Testament in high regard as the true word of our God. More than the other three writers, Matthew brings out how Jesus again and again fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies. What a confirmation for our faith!
For example, Matthew brings out how Jesus' birth fulfills Isaiah prophecy, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (Matthew 1:23 NIV1984). He was born in Bethlehem as Micah had foretold: "But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel" (Matthew 2:6 NIV1984). Jesus carried out much of his ministry in Galilee, for Isaiah had said: "Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles -- the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (Matthew 4:15, 16 NIV1984). Matthew reports Jesus' miracles of healing and driving out evil spirits to show that he is the Messiah, for the prophet had written: "He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases" (Matthew 8:17 NIV1984). That's why when John the Baptist, who is in prison, sends his disciples to ask whether Jesus is the One, Jesus can simple tell them, "Go back and report to John what your hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor" (Matthew 11:4-6 NIV1984). That is what the Old Testament had foretold, so John, even as he sat in Herod's prison, could know for sure that Jesus was the Messiah. So also, we can be sure. Believe, dear friends, believe that Jesus is the Messiah long foretold. He is the seed of the woman who came to crush Satan's head and reconcile us to God. The man Jesus is the divine Messiah.
But Matthew also wanted his fellow Jews to know that even though Jesus was born a Jew, he was the Savior not only for the Jews. He makes that clear already in the second chapter as he tells of the first Gentiles who worshiped Jesus, those non-Jewish magi or wise men who followed the star to Bethlehem. He's the only writer that mentions that. And he also closes his writing in the last chapter with Jesus sending out his disciples into all the world: "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:19, 20 NIV1984). What good news for you and for me! Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, is our Savior!
Finally, Matthew also puts it very bluntly for his fellow Jews and for you and me: You are either following Jesus or you are not. They could not compromising their faith to avoid ridicule, insult, or persecution from their unbelieving countrymen and still follow Jesus, just as we cannot compromise with the world. There is no in between. There's no fence sitting. Either your hope and faith is in Jesus or they're not. You can't hedge your bet. In Matthew 6 Jesus say, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also ... No one can serve two masters ... You cannot serve both God and Money" (Matthew 6:21, 24 NIV1984). In Matthew 7 there is only one small gate and narrow road that leads to life. You are either a wise builder or a foolish one who builds on sand and falls with a great crash. There is no in between. "He who is not with me is against me" (Matthew 12:30 NIV1984), Jesus says in Matthew 12. Dear friends, through the words Matthew has recorded, hear the Spirit calling you: Come, follow Jesus, your Messiah. Follow him with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, total commitment. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.