The Bible in a Year, Week 1: Matthew

This is the first weekly reading in the plan for reading your Bible in one year. The assignment for this week is the book of Matthew. It should only take about 10-15 minutes a day, or about four chapters a day to complete the assignment.

Here are some comments to help you grow in knowledge and faith as you read Matthew:

Background: The Gospel of Matthew was written by its namesake, Matthew the apostle. Matthew was one of the 12 disciples. The record of Jesus calling Matthew to follow him is in Matthew 9 and Mark 2. Matthew, also called Levi, was a tax collector by trade–a profession not looked highly upon at all. The tax collectors at this time were viewed as the scum of the earth because they often would cheat the people and steal money. Whether or not Matthew did this in his previous profession, we do not know.

Each gospel writer clearly wrote for a specific purpose. Mark wrote for a Gentile audience, revealing Jesus as the Savior of all. Luke the doctor wrote his gospel as a letter to his friend Theophilus and as a summary of all the information he carefully researched. John clearly reveals the true divinity of our Savior Jesus Christ. Matthew clearly wrote his gospel for a Hebrew audience. Over and over again he quotes Old Testament Scripture, making it very clear that Jesus is the promised Messiah, and making the perfect bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament

We cannot be sure of the date of writing. It seems likely that it was written before 70 A.D. Jerusalem fell in this year, but that important event is not mentioned at all in Matthew. It also seems possible that Matthew may have been the first gospel that was written, perhaps as early as 50 A.D. Whatever the date, the message is clear: Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah and Savior!

Here are some notes about the chapters:

Matthew 1-2: The genealogies of the Bible are not useless lists of names that can be skipped over. They all serve a purpose, including this genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1. Matthew again reveals that he is writing to Jews as he traces the line of Jesus back to the great patriarch Abraham. This genealogy also reminds us then that God kept his promises to his people to send the Savior through the line of Abraham.

It is very clear in the opening chapters that Jesus is no ordinary child. Matthew is careful to state that he was conceived in Mary through the Holy Spirit before she had any union with Joseph. This was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7. Jesus was also given a very special name–Immanuel–which in Hebrew means God with Us. What a loving God, that he would come to dwell among his people, to be with them, and to save them!

The Christ-child is further honored by the visit of the Magi. It is possible to trace the word Magi back to the word magus, which was the name of a scholar/diviner/astronomer/philosopher/magician in the region of Babylon. If this is the case, these “Wise Men” would have traveled about 600 miles to see the babe of Bethlehem. They did worship Christ with three special gifts, but we do not know if there were more or less than three Magi.

More prophecy is then fulfilled as Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt, later to return and settle in Nazareth. These events fulfilled prophecies by Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah!

Matthew 3-4: John the Baptist was also a fulfillment of prophecy. He was the one who would prepare the way for the Savior to come. So John preached repentance in the desert, proclaiming that the people were to turn from their sins and turn back to God.

As John baptized people in a similar way that we do baptisms (with water, for the forgiveness of sins), he had the distinct honor of baptizing Jesus. That event is very special for several reasons. First, we see all three persons of the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–present at the same time. They are clearly three separate persons yet one true God. Secondly, this event marks the beginning of the public ministry of Christ. In addition, we see the importance for baptism in our lives since Christ himself did it, not because he needed it but, “to fulfill all righteousness.”

Immediately after Jesus was led off to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days and 40 nights. There Satan came to tempt him three times. We see typical protocol for Satan, jumping at an opportunity when people are weak. We also note several modus operandi of the devil. He almost speaks the truth, yet it is really lies. He knows and understands Scripture and is willing to even use that against us. Finally, he knows exactly which temptations are most challenging to us all! Yet Jesus proves that he is our perfect substitute who lived a perfect life as he refused all the temptations. It is also worth noting how he fought off temptation–with the Word of God!

Following this, Jesus returned to Galilee where he began to preach and teach, and called his first disciples. We need not assume that they had never heard Jesus before and then simply dropped everything to follow him on a whim. It is more likely that they had heard him before or heard about him through John the Baptist so that they had some understanding of who he was before they were called to leave everything and follow him.

It is interesting to note that the word disciple means one who learns. The very definition of the word reminds us that we are to continually learn from Jesus in his Word. Also, we note the purpose of disciples–to reach out to other people!

Matthew 5-7: Upon seeing large crowds, Jesus took advantage to preach a great sermon, known as the Sermon on the Mount. The opening to this sermon is the Beatitudes. Beatitudes is a Latin word that means Blessings. Often there is a division of eight categories of people that are blessed in the Beatitudes.  Jesus makes it clear that worldly thinking is far from truth. The people that are truly blessed are those that are humble, meek, and mild. Those who pursue the ways of the Lord and walk in faith are the ones who are truly blessed, because they have received a righteousness from the Lord and will reap the reward of eternal life in heaven.

The rest of the sermon contains timeless words about important topics like adultery, divorce, prayer, worries, and more. There are many famous passages from this sermon, including the instructions for the Lord’s prayer, comfort that God cares for us as he does all creatures of this world, and assurance that God will answer our prayers when we fervently ask, seek, and knock.

Matthew 8-10: In these chapters it becomes very clear that the one who claimed to be the Son of God is in fact true God. Here we see Jesus heal a man with leprosy, heal the servant of the Centurion, healing many others including Peter’s mother-in-law, calming the wind and waves, casting out demons, healing a paralytic, healing a sick woman, raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, and healing the blind and mute.

The evidence is overwhelming. This is truly God! These aren’t fabricated stories of fantasy either. The disciples witnessed these events with their own eyes and then wrote down the very things they saw and heard. As the crowd asks in 8:27, “What kind of man is this?” it should have been very clear to them! Jesus did not perform these miracles simply to show how loving he was towards people. He certainly is that. But Jesus did these things to give undeniable proof that he was who he claimed to be and that he certainly has the power to save us!

Here Matthew also briefly includes his own calling, telling us that he was a tax collector. Interestingly, he does identify himself with a greater group of “sinners,” people whom the Pharisees looked down upon. Jesus quickly reminds the Pharisees and us though that all people are sinners, and that is exactly whom he came to save.

We also see in these chapters that Jesus gave his disciples a little taste of ministry. He sent them out in Israel to preach that the Savior had come. As we do mission work today, we should not expect to have the same powers and abilities as these first disciples did when they performed miracles. Jesus gave them power at the time to authenticate the message the proclaimed (in the same way he used miracles to do the same). Today however, we have the Word of God as the authentic and powerful proof of our Savior. Thus, we do not need such miracles and should not expect such miracles to accompany our preaching.

Matthew 11-15: In chapter 11 Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the greatest prophet that has lived. Certainly, John did have a very important task in preparing the way for the Savior to come. Yet even as such an “important person,” we see what seems to be a moment of weakness in John the Baptist. Locked away in prison with his execution likely coming soon, John sends disciples to ask if Jesus really was the one who was to come. We should not doubt that John ever lost faith. However, we could receive some comfort that even the “best of us” have questions running through our heads. Jesus clearly answers: Yes! He is the Christ!

More comfort and assurance is given later in chapter 11 as Jesus offers comfort to all the weary: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” How often we look everywhere else to find comfort first–self-help books, friends, TV, alcohol, drugs, and everything in between. But our true source of comfort and rest is and will always be Jesus. Where do we find Jesus? In his Word and Sacraments. Thus, it is in reading the Bible and attending worship and Bible study that we receive true comfort and rest from Christ. To remove ourselves from the Word or from worship is to remove ourselves from his comfort and rest!

In chapters 12-15, Jesus takes several special opportunities to teach in several unique ways. He makes it clear to the Pharisees on the Sabbath Day that he is the Lord of the Sabbath–that he is God who created the Sabbath for people to get spiritual rest (and not to have all sorts of man-made, self-satisfying rules!). He takes opportunity after casting out a demon to use very clear reasoning and logic to teach that he not only has nothing to do with Satan, but he also has all power over Satan. He used Jonah in the belly of the fish as a sign pointing to his resurrection from the dead. He used his immediate family to relate that all believers are his brothers and sisters through faith.

Finally, Jesus tells several parables in these chapters to teach the people. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. It is a story that is in human and worldly terms but that communicates a divine point and message. When interpreting the parables, it is important not to get hung up on what each part of the parable means or represents (eg. The sower = ___; The barn = ___; The grass = ___). The key to interpreting the parables is to understand the point that Jesus is trying to communicate. What is the message that he is driving home? What does he want me to know that will benefit my faith and life in this world? Finally, it should also be noted that the point of the parables is not some “hidden meaning” behind the text that we need to discover. The parables are usually very plain and straight forward–which is exactly why he told them. (Though at the same time we do remember that Jesus used the parables to frustrate all the more his enemies who would not listen to him!).

Other things to remember from these chapters are the several famous miracles that Jesus performed, also proving his divinity. Sadly, the more miracles he performed (the healings, the feeding of the thousands) the more the people wanted Jesus for all the wrong reasons. They wanted an earthly king who would give them everything they wanted in this life, and not the eternal king who would grant them eternal life. God grant us the strength of faith to seek the latter and not the former!

Matthew 16-20: In chapters 16-17, we ride quite the spiritual roller coaster with the apostle Peter. First he makes a beautiful confession of faith that Jesus is, “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus praises Peter for this confession of faith and states that on this rock he will build the church. It is important to understand that this rock does not refer to Peter (whose name means rock). Rather, Jesus means that on his confession of faith (that Jesus is the Christ) he will build the church. Further, when Jesus hands over the keys to the kingdom of heaven–the power to preach both law and gospel–he is handing that over to the whole church and not exclusively to Peter.

From this spiritual high Peter comes crashing down as he tries to dissuade Jesus from dying. Perhaps it was a good intention, not wanting his friend and teacher to die. But clearly his focus was not on what was most important. Thus, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Back up Peter climbs, this time literally, as he climbs the mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, James, and John. There they beheld Jesus’ radiant glory, shining brightly as Moses and Elijah also appeared. It must have been a magnificent sight to see, and an extraordinary privilege. Yet Peter again fails to understand what was taking place. His seemingly harmless statement about staying there on the mountain showed a lack of understanding of Jesus’ true purpose and an unhealthy desire for temporary glory. Yet Jesus, our perfect Savior, remained resolute in his mission and came down the mountain to head toward Jerusalem.

At the end of chapter 17 through chapter 20 we see Jesus teaching his way toward Jerusalem. Along the way, the Pharisees made several attempts to “stump” Jesus. They were trying to catch him with a bad answer which they could use as a reason to arrest and execute him. Of course, our perfect Savior answered the near impossible questions in the perfect way each time!

Finally, we can note an important section in chapter 20 where Jesus teaches about his mercy. Often Christians wrongly feel that God is unfair. “How can God really forgive everyone?” “It’s not fair that he forgives the really bad people when I’ve been trying hard to be a Christian my whole life.” “It’s not fair that I’ve tried to obey God my whole life and someone can just sneak in the back door at the last minute.” But Jesus teaches in the parable of the workers in the vineyard that this is the wrong perspective! We ought simply be thankful for God’s mercy to anyone, including ourselves! As Jesus illustrates through the vineyard owner, it is up to him whom he rewards with eternal life!

Matthew 21-25: It chapter 21 Jesus enters Jerusalem for the final time. Ironically, the section title in the Bible is “The Triumphal Entry.” Yet it really wasn’t that triumphant. Humbly he rode in on a donkey. They laid palm branches and coats before him, but not gold, silver, or precious jewels which a king would truly deserve. And while a sizable crowd shouted his praises, his enemies were right there to deter the crowd. Once more though Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Scriptures as the King, the Son of David, who rode into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

The following chapters include some of the things that Jesus did during Holy Week. These were his final opportunities to teach the people and to reach out to them with the truth of his coming to save. So he cleared out the temple to teach the people what was most important about that house of worship. He answered more deceitful questions from the Pharisees with perfect answers of truth. He instructed his true disciples to prepare themselves not only for his departure, but also for his second return on Judgment Day.

As we read Jesus’ words about the End Times and the Last Day, particularly in chapters 24-25, we take careful note that most of these things have already taken place. There have been wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, persecutions, and much more. Thus, as we listen to Jesus tell us that he will come unexpectedly like a thief in the night, we will take extra care to be on our guard and to be prepared. As we keep our lamps trimmed and burning waiting for his return, we pray that he will keep us in the one true faith that we might remain one of his sheep whom he will welcome into his eternal sheep pen!

Matthew 26-28: Jesus being anointed in Bethany is quite significant. As the woman poured expensive perfume onto his feet, she reminds us how precious and valuable our Savior is who came to give his life for us and win for us all forgiveness!

During the Last Supper we give special attention to Jesus’ words of institution for his special Meal. Clearly he tells us that in his Supper we receive both bread and wine and also his true body and blood. The purpose is also very clear. We receive this special Meal, “for the forgiveness of sins.”

Here we also ride the spiritual roller coaster with Peter again. While he boldly proclaims that he would never deny Jesus and would even die for him, only a short while later we see him fast asleep when Jesus had asked him to watch and pray. Then he draws his sword to cut off the ear of Malchus, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Finally, we see Peter reach the lowest of lows as he even calls down curses upon himself to deny knowing Jesus three times.

We certainly feel for Peter, because we ride the same spiritual roller coaster on a regular basis. At times we feel as though our faith is as strong as it has ever been. But before we can even blink we are doing something so sinful that we cannot believe that we ourselves could even do that! This is why we join Peter with tears of sorrow and repentance, and then look to the cross of Christ where all of those sins were paid for!

In chapter 27 Jesus became the ultimate fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. At the demand of the Jews, by the hands of the Romans, and because of our sins, Jesus was crucified on Calvary. There every sin was laid. There the guilt of all was heaped. There the depths of hell were experienced as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And there God’s plan of salvation was completed as he bowed his head and died. For you. For me.

But death had no hold on Christ. The grave could not contain him. On the third day he rose triumphant and victorious from the dead. He appeared to Mary and to his disciples to assure them and us of his victory. He rose to prove that we too will rise to new life.

Finally, Matthew records that Jesus commissioned his disciples–all disciples–to go and make more disciples. No discrimination is to be involved–all nations means all nations. Then he instructed them how to make disciples: 1) by baptizing them in the name of the Triune God, and 2) by teaching them everything Jesus has commanded and taught. We have Christ’s own promise that we have his power and presence to carry out this great commission.

God grant us strength to focus on our Savior, the fulfillment of all Scripture, as we proclaim his great acts to all nations!

Next Week’s Readings (starting 1/9/11):  Mark

To view or download a copy of the 1-Year Bible Reading Plan (New Testament first), click here.

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Posted on January 4, 2011, in Bible in a Year, Church and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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