The structure of the Gospel according to Matthew is quite clear when compared to the other accounts, but, to be honest, most people do not care about the structure of a book. They basically want something that catches their attention in the beginning and that will hold their attention until the very end.
The most significant part of the structure of this account is the five sermons or discourses, and saying or writing that can REALLY turn a person off. Sermons or discourses are typically not very exciting.
In verse 21 of chapter 10, when Jesus talks about members of a family putting other members of that family to death, now THAT is something of interest to people, although that is very sad to say. Now that is something that would make the evening news, although, again, that is very sad to say.
Why would a person want the other members of his or her family dead? It must be something extremely important. And that is exactly where God comes in.
Actually it is the name of Jesus that comes on the scene. In the first part of verse 22, Jesus says that '... you will be hated by all for my name's sake.' That name is important within this account. Instead of an account of Jesus' birth in Matthew, there is more of an account of his naming. His name means savior, rescuer--not just helper.
And the name of Jesus changes in a very interesting way in the rest of this 'talk'. In verse 23 he calls himself 'the Son of Man'--the only time in this account (and very near the center--a quick and VERY approximate check of this shows that there are 38 verses of this sermon, and half of that is 19, and, when added to the first 4 verses of the chapter, you come up with the number 23). It is interesting that Jesus is calling himself something that he isn't (he was--and still is--the Son of God, not the Son of Man), but he is going to do something that his followers are not expecting.
Just a bit later, Jesus will call himself 'the master of the house' (v. 25). There is a noticeable progression in all the accounts, that as Jesus gets more popular, that as he becomes 'the master of the house', he gets his enemies more angry with him. And that anger is directed toward his followers as well.
It all makes sense. It is going to happen. It is not going to get better here on earth. But that is not the very end. As Jesus says in that second part of verse 22, 'But the one who endures to the end will be saved.'
I like that last week's text starts us on the season of Pentecost. Usually we look at the beginning of a book to get an idea of where it starts. But we could also look at the end and see where it ends. Both parts are important, but this time we looked at the end of the book.
And I can't help thinking that the phrase Jesus gave near the end, to baptize 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit' made a deep impression on the disciples, but particularly Matthew. That name, the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a wonderful summary of who God is and what he did. Maybe they were coming down that mountain, marveling how succinctly Jesus had summarized the entire Old Testament.
How Matthew ended up writing one of the gospel accounts is another story, but the way in which he wrote it has been closely examined. And more than one scholar has noticed that Matthew liked to group things in sets of three. I do not think it is a coincidence that there are several sets of three in this gospel account and that it ends with that special name of three in one--usually called the Trinity.
These groupings of three are important from a Hebrew perspective because of the importance of the middle item within a structure. That is seen as a Hebrew style, and it seems that it was also picked up and employed by some of the Greek writers.
In the text for this Sunday, Matthew has a list of three things that Jesus was doing (9:35): teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and affliction. Most people would like to focus on the last one, and that is certainly important, but the use of the word 'gospel' in the middle one is even more important. That word has an important history, and it continues to be of critical importance within the church--especially since the number of obvious miracles has dropped dramatically.
I also do not think it is a coincidence that the Son is in the middle of the Trinity. And near the beginning of the work, Matthew brought up the importance of that Son receiving the name of Jesus. It is hard to get away from a focus on Jesus, our Savior.
This Sunday is the congregations' Mission Festival, so there is not only a guest preacher, but I managed to pick someone who was interested in preaching on the Gospel text for Trinity Sunday--which is also this Sunday.
For this year, the Gospel text for Trinity Sunday is Matthew 28:16-20, and this text is possibly one of the most well-known (and possibly also the most misunderstood) verses within the New Testament.
I have lost count of how many times I have heard of a person who travelled a significant distance in the hopes of doing some evangelism, and unfortunately, in the end, things did not turn out too well for that person. This is understandable because we live in a very sinfully complex world. That is a sad fact that is sometimes forgotten.
It is good to remember as well that the word 'Go', when Jesus says to his disciples, 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...,' the word essentially means, 'As you are going....' The important thing is definitely not the going; the far-more important thing is the disciple making.
Jesus makes that aspect easy to comprehend (since the word is somewhat rare) by stating the two components of disciple making: baptizing and teaching. By the way in which both of those things are laid out, it should become obvious, sooner or later, that the focus should not be ourselves in any way. The focus should be Jesus as the one who changed our situation completely around. The meaning of his name (Savior) proves it.
As he changed Matthew the tax-collector, as he changed the girl who was dead, so he will continue to change people by the words he gives through the mouths of those who are willing to speak them. A seminary professor of mine used to say, 'To be ordained is to be rendered irrelevant.'
This Sunday happens to be Pentecost. It changes every year because Easter changes every year, and it is essentially fifty days after Easter.
The first thing most Christians think about on this Sunday is the Pentecost experience in Acts 2. But that is an easy way to get distracted from what is important.
The writer of Acts starts the book by noting that the first volume (the Gospel according to Luke) describes what Jesus began to do and to teach. By implication this volume is what Jesus CONTINUES to do and to teach.
Those who have heard me preach for a while know that I usually preach on the Gospel text, and there is a good reason for that. The focus is usually Jesus. It is difficult to have the focus be anything else.
The Gospel text for this year, from John 7, only verses 37-39. And the first part of the ESV text reads in this way (and most translations follow): "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."'"
But there is a footnote which has the translation as follows, and I think this option helps to keep the focus on Jesus: "On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me, and let him who believes in me drink. As the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."'" With this second option, the heart with the rivers of living water is Jesus' heart.
This second option also fits with the important action of Jesus' crucifixion, that when he was pierced, out came blood and water. John was there. He saw the details. He may have not seen the big picture right away. But when it came later, I am quite sure he was impressed.
In Acts 2 the disciples are telling 'the mighty works of God.' I would imagine that they are not talking about creation. The whole story that God has chosen to reveal is about something infinitely more important.