For Christian believers, the Gospel of Matthew is one of the four canonical Gospels that gives biographical and theological information about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, through Whom eternal salvation is available. Matthew’s Gospel not only tells the story of what happened in the lives of certain people during a certain time, it tells us the story of what is true of all people of all time.
- The Presentation of the Hero
In the first chapters of Matthew, Jesus is presented as the very son of God. His genealogy would have impressed the strictest and most orthodox Jew. The miracles surrounding His birth are designed to demonstrate His perfection.
- The Opposition to Jesus’s Forerunner
Jesus Himself would say of His forerunner John the Baptist that “among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). But that did not prevent the religious rulers of Christ’s day from being suspicious of John and of subjecting his ministry to a high degree of scrutiny.
As early as the third chapter of Matthew, we begin to see a sharp division between truly good people like John the Baptist and Jesus and people who were merely apparently good like the religious leaders of the day (such people as the Sadducees, the Pharisees, etc.). We begin to sense the that people who could make a show of outward piety were actually governed by a strong sense of jealousy.
- The Distinction Magnified
In Matthew 5 – 7, the famous Sermon on the Mount is presented; and in that sermon, the Lord’s Prayer is presented. One of the powerful utterances of that prayer is the statement Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). It doesn’t take too much reflection to recognize that there is a sharp distinction between the way things are typically done (in earth) with the way things ought to be done (in heaven).
From the standpoint of people’s actions, Matthew presents the self-serving, jealous religious leads of his day as typical of what is “of earth,” and he presents the generous, helpful, healing Saviour as exemplifying what is “of heaven.”
- The Battle Rages
All through the book of Matthew—regardless of how many people Jesus heals, regardless of how many people Jesus helps—we see a constant attempt by the religious leads of the day to discredit Christ. Jesus was questioned about the smallest technicalities of Jewish Law, both laws that had been given by God in the Old Testament, and laws that had been added by religious leaders through the years.
Matthew 22:15 shows with great clarity the motives of the enemies of Christ. “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.” With all the real work that needed to be done…feeding the poor, aiding the widows, helping those in distress…the guile and self-serving jealousy of the religious leaders led them to invest their time in seeing how they could entrap Jesus.
- Jesus Describes Bad People
As this battle between the religious leaders and Jesus reaches its climax, Jesus described the worst tendencies of bad people in Matthew 23.
- They do not practice what they preach (Matthew 23:3 – 4).
- They do good “for to be seen of men” (Matthew 23:5).
- They love prestige (Matthew 23:6 – 7).
Bad people make demands about what you do, but they excuse themselves from these very demands. Bad people do good when it has potential to make them look good, but they typically skip good deeds that may not be rewarded. Bad people love prominent seats and prominent titles. They rather enjoy it when people bow and scrape before them. Their ultimate motive is for people to brag on them and to make pronouncements about how wonderful they are.
Bad people can be among the laziest people in the world—except when they have an ax to grind. When they are trying to put someone down, they will go to great lengths to demonstrate someone else’s imperfections, thereby making themselves look good.
- Evil Wins?
After doing all they could to suppress the ministry of Jesus Christ, the religious leaders of the day finally succeeded in crucifying Him. With great cruelty, they allowed Jesus to suffer one of the most painful deaths known to man.
From a medical point of view, you might be interested in the article by Thompson and Harrub about the physical suffering of Christ during His Crucifixion.
- God Wins
The Resurrection of Christ was something that His enemies could never have conceived. The limitations of their viewpoints made it impossible for them to imagine how anyone could succeed after they had successfully destroyed him. The Resurrection of Jesus in Matthew, among other things, demonstrates that, in the long run, goodness and truth win out over evil…even when it seems completely and utterly impossible.
- The Theme of Forgiveness
In Matthew, Jesus is presented as completely perfect, yet with the understanding that no one except Jesus is completely perfect. The rest of us—the imperfect ones—would certainly need to practice forgiveness just as Jesus did when He said, “Father forgive them; for they now not what they do.”
Many times throughout Matthew’s Gospel, the theme of forgiveness is prominent. For example, in the Lord’s Prayer, we are instructed to ask for God’s forgiveness to the degree that we forgive others (Matthew 6:12).
I am reminded of the adage “bitterness destroys its own container” as I contemplate the vital importance of the idea of forgiveness.
- The Theme of Fellowship
Matthew acknowledges human weakness. He acknowledges that every person needs help from outside himself in order to make it in this world where there is constant tension between truth and error, between good people and self-centered people. Matthew presents Christ’s words with artistry:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28 – 30
by Dr. Mike Zachary