Dr. H. Stephen Shoemaker
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
December 2, 2007
MATTHEW: TRAINING MANUAL FOR DISCIPLES
Texts: Genesis 1:1-5; Matthew 1:1-17
We embark this morning on a journey together through the Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament.
Paul Minear calls Matthew “the first authoritative training manual” for the apostles and their replacements.1 Imagine yourself living in Syria near the end of the first century. You’ve decided to become a Christian. You are preparing for baptism. Your church says, This Gospel will tell you what you need to know to follow Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel emphasizes, more than the others, the role of Jesus the teacher. Jesus’ first act was calling four fishermen to follow him. This Gospel has been a training manual for disciples from that day to now.
There are several ways you can join us on the journey. I’ve provided a daily way of reading through the Gospel. It’s provided in brochure form for you today. It starts slowly in December, readings corresponding to Advent. Everyday readings begin January 1. The reading is straight through Matthew except for Holy Week and Easter, where we jump ahead.
I will be preaching these texts through the next year and those are listed on the brochure as well. So there’s a Sunday sequence of texts.
There will also be an opportunity to read through the Gospel as part of a small group meeting weekly. I’ll begin one group this Wednesday. Call Sheila Ennis about other opportunities.
I said in the brochure this journey through Matthew is not like a cruise where you have to get on board at the beginning and then you’re stuck there the rest of the journey. It’s more like a group traveling by train. You can hop off as need be, and then take another train to catch up with the group.
So welcome to a year with Matthew, Gospel reading as congregational spiritual practice.
All aboard?! Take a look at the outline of the Gospel in your order of worship (page 8).
You see that the main body of the Gospel is broken into five units - - like the five books of Moses. Jesus is pictured here as the new Moses bringing us a new way of life, life in the kingdom of God, or as Matthew always puts it, “the kingdom of the heavens.” Each of the sections begins with stories and ends with teachings. This again is like the story of Moses in Exodus. We begin with the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrew children from slavery in Egypt and it ends in the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai.
So, in the first of the five sections we have the stories of Jesus’ baptism and his calling of disciples in chapters 3 and 4 and then the Sermon on the Mount, chapters 5-7, another Torah from a mountain.
Hauerwas says that Matthew’s Gospel “positions the reader to be a follower of Jesus.” (It can only “position” you. It’s up to you and the Spirit of God to take that step.) You see two groups all through the Gospel: the “crowd” and the “disciples.” Matthew wants to move you from being part of the crowd, curious about Jesus, even admiring of Jesus, into becoming part of the disciples, those who have decided to follow him.
I now move us to the bottom of the page where I’ve created a Wenn Diagram to picture the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew’s Gospel is a fusion of three stories. Again I use Paul Minear’s thought.2
The top left circle is “the story of Jesus from birth to death.” A gospel cannot be a gospel without re-telling this story.
The top right circle is “the emerging vocation of the disciples.” Here is the story of the original disciples who followed Jesus and their attempts throughout the Gospel to figure out who Jesus was and what following him meant.
And it’s also the story of Matthew’s church in the last quarter of the first century trying to figure out what Jesus’ call to them meant for their time. It’s now fifty or so years after Jesus’ death and resurrection – about as far away as we are from John Kennedy’s death. They are living in Syria, in a city like Antioch and Damacus. Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. There’s been a painful break between the church and the synagogue. They did not foresee this happening, but it has happened. Matthew and his community revere the tradition of Israel and the Hebrew scriptures, but now they are on their own. How can they go forward as a carrier of the sacred history of Israel and as a community of the new creation founded by Jesus Christ? You see this struggle all the way through. So Jesus says at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: “Think not that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (5:17).
And Matthew sees himself as what Jesus called “a scribe trained for the kingdom of the heavens” who goes like a householder to the family treasury and brings out “what is new and what is old” (13:52). New and old.
Then there is a third circle at the bottom: “The creative design of God.” God has been at work since creation seeking to bring creation to its fulfilment in justice, joy and peace. God now is at work in Jesus Christ to redeem the world and what Jesus reveals are things “hidden from the foundation of the world” (13:35).
So we see three stories fused together as one, each story inter-penetrating the other: Jesus’ story, the disciples’ story and God’s story. And there is a fourth circle not pictured. You must draw this one in: your story, added to the other three, connecting with all the other three. It is your life joined to the story of Jesus, the emerging vocation of the disciples and the creative design of God.
So let’s plunge forward into the text. You see the first words printed around the symbolic figure - - the human creature with wings (the ancient symbol of Matthew’s Gospel):
The Book of the Genesis of Jesus Christ
Son of David, Son of Abraham.
Son of David: This will be a key title for Jesus through Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus will fulfill David’s kingly reign, but he will be an utterly different kind of king than anyone could have imagined: a king of meekness, a slave-king or servant-king, a king who heals, a king who gives up his life for the sake of the world.
Kierkegaard told a parable about a prince riding in his kingdom who saw a beautiful young peasant woman and fell instantly in love. He hid his royal clothes and donned a peasant’s clothes so he would not intimidate her. She fell in love with him as well. When did she recognize him for who he was: a prince?
In the Gospel we do not recognize Jesus for who he is until the end, until his death and resurrection. Matthew in his first sentence is letting you know that a new awareness is on the way if you go on this gospel journey. The Book of the Genesis of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one of God (Christ is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah), Son of David.
Jesus is also called “Son of Abraham.” Abraham, the one who heard God’s call to leave his homeland and begin a new people. God would bless his family and lineage. His family would number as the stars in the sky, as the grains of sand in the sea. God would bless his family and through his family God would bless all the families of earth.
Jesus comes from the loins of Israel and through Jesus God will bless the whole world.
So now the genealogy: Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob and on down through forty-two generations until the birth of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ.
Matthew breaks the family tree into three groups: from Abraham to David, from David to the Babylonian Exile, and from the Babylonian Exile to Christ.
What does this genealogy tell us? It tells us God chooses particular people and nations to represent God and work God’s purposes on earth.
It tells us that God works through good and bad people and through the good and bad in each of us to work redemption. It’s what Joseph told his brothers who had sold him into slavery: You meant it for evil but God meant it for good. You planned it for evil, but God planned it over for good!
I love how a character in a Jan Karon novel puts it: “Every saint has a ‘past’ and every sinner has a ‘future’!” It’s never too late to join God’s redemption movement.
Who did you recognize as you read the genealogy? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ruth and Boaz, David, Solomon? How about Josiah, the boy king who assumed the throne when he was eight years old when his father was murdered. It was during his reign that a copy of the Torah, the Hebrew Bible, was found hidden in God’s house. The new reading of the Bible led a reformation in the land.
What about the women? It’s highly irregular for women’s names to be in a genealogy of that time. Check out the begats in Genesis: All male. It’s a wonder how the men did it all by themselves!
But Matthew breaks custom and includes four. And the four he includes were not famous matriarchs of the faith like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, but four highly unusual figures.
First Tamar, daughter-in-law to Judah, who disguised herself as a harlot in order to trick him into having a child with her, thereby keeping the Abrahamic family line going. And when Judah discovered what had happened he said to her: “You are more righteous that I!” (One day I will preach a series on stories that did not make it into stained glass. This is one of them.)
And Rahab, the prostitute, who sheltered Hebrew spies in her house in Jericho and helped them prevail in the battle of Jericho.
And Ruth, the Moabite - - a people despised by the Hebrew people - - who went with her mother-in-law Naomi back to Naomi’s home in Bethlehem, met Boaz and became the fore-mother of David and Christ.
Then the woman described but not named: Bathsheba, the “wife of Uriah, the Hittite” - - who got involved with King David, which led to the death of her husband, and bore with David a son, King Solomon.
Why were these four chosen? For their sinfulness? No, it can’t be that. Look at the men on the list: Abraham, who lied to the Pharaoh that Sarah was his sister not wife, trying to save his skin and thus exposing her to danger.
And Jacob, who cheated his brother out of birthright and blessing and deceived his old, blind father.
And David, who sought to cover his adultery and Bethsheba’s pregnancy by sending her husband Uriah to the front lines to be killed.
No, the women were not chosen for that reason.
I think of two important reasons why these four women were chosen:
First, they were all “outsiders,” all foreigners:
Tamar, proaclyte from Canaanite territory
Rahab, a Canaanite
Ruth, a Moahite
Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.
God chose Israel to bless the world, but God also needed foreign women to achieve his purposes. God needs outsiders to keep the faith going and to spread the faith to outsiders. Jesus is about to take the gospel of God to Gentiles, and there are four Gentiles in his blood-line.
Second, these women used their intelligence, their faith, their courage, even their wiles to help God keep the family line and faith-mission going.
We will see later in the Gospel of Matthew a Syro-Phoenician woman play a very similar role with Jesus.
Through it all we see that God is a God of Surprises. Surprise is one of the names for God, and “hope,” as I said a couple of weeks ago, is openness for surprise.
And so the genealogy ends with the greatest surprise of all. And Matthan begat Jacob and Jacob begat Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born who is called the Christ.
Matthew begins his gospel: “The book of the genesis of Jesus Christ.” And that word “genesis” echoes back to the first words of the Bible, Genesis 1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
And this same God, two thousand years ago created a child of heaven and earth, born from the loins of Israel and born in the Spirit of God: Jesus of Nazareth, born to a young peasant girl named Mary and to her bewildered but faithful husband Joseph.
And this one named Jesus will call us to follow and join in the new creation of God he called the kingdom of God.
Here is the call of Christ to us every day, the disciples’ call: to give as much of yourself as you can to as much of Christ as you know. Every day there’s a new step I can take, you can take, more of yourself you can give, more of Christ you know to give yourself to.
What is this next step for you? What is this step today?
1Paul S. Minear, The Good News According to Matthew: A Training Manual for Prophets (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2000), p. X.
2Ibid., pp. 2-6.