Well, I just started with my Sacred Space series and I’ve already decided to interrupt it. Oh well, what can I say…I have a lot on my mind. While I’ve been working through my thoughts on Sacred Space, I’ve been pushed in another direction—the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve begun studying the Sermon on the Mount (hereafter, The Sermon) in our church and as we begin to work our way through this passage it has become apparent that many people miss the point that Jesus is making. People seem to think that Jesus is giving us and ethical program to follow or that he’s telling us what His conspicuously “Jewish” millennial kingdom on Earth will look like after some supposed “rapture” and “great tribulation” period. I’m sure there are other ideas that vary somewhat, but The Sermon is usually categorized as a teaching for the Jews concerning their Kingdom at some future point in time (as opposed to the Kingdom that Christians are a part of now), or it’s an ethical imperative that Jesus is giving to those who believe in Him so that they can obey it and thereby be pleasing to God—or a combination of both! But was that Jesus’ point?
Matthew takes great pains in the chapters leading up to The Sermon to show his (mostly) Jewish readers at the time that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, the King that they had been looking for. The prophets had spoken clearly that God’s plan of redemption called for the coming of the Son o David to reign as King on the throne of God in fulfillment of His promise to David in the Davidic Covenant. The coming of this King is also the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, where God promised Abraham a Seed (typologically fulfilled in physical, national “Israel”) in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. This “seed” (which is also the fulfillment of the promise in the Garden that a Seed would be born of the woman who would crush the serpents head and reverse the curse) was to be the point of the revelation of God and His redemption to all the people of Earth. The earthly, physical (national) “kingdom” of Israel failed to be God’s Covenant Son, they were not Abraham’s “true” seed (as expected, since “Israel” was only typological); but in its failure, it prophesied of the True Seed to come—the King and His Kingdom. As we read in Galatians (and really, all throughout the NT), Christ is the True Seed of Abraham and the recipient of the promise. He is the Servant and the true “Israel” of which the prophets spoke (especially Isaiah). And all those who have been joined to Christ by faith, all those who are in Christ share in His inheritance as the True children of Abraham—and thus, only in Christ are the Davidic and Abrahamic Covenants fulfilled. We who belong to Christ are the partakers of the promise!
Matthew begins his declaration of Jesus as King by recounting the genealogy of Jesus in three sets of “fourteen” generations. These “generational” markers are designed to show a “macro” view of the movement of redemptive history that culminates in his own generation with the birth of Christ. Matthew’s genealogy reminds his readers of the promise of a King (in Abraham), the emergence of the (typological) king (in David), and the destruction of the king and kingdom (in the deportation), which he then uses to link to Christ. These generational markers, “from” and “to”, have a forward momentum that Matthew uses to take his readers “from” promise “to” fulfillment.
Matthew begins with Abraham to recount for his readers God’s promise of a King and Kingdom. He then establishes the typological fulfillment of that promise in David; but he reminds his readers that the Davidic kingdom wasn’t ultimate by immediately linking David “generationally” with the Babylonian captivity. His readers knew their history, they knew their Scripture. His readers were aware that God cursed David’s line, but that He also re-iterated His promise to Abraham in His promise to David, that He would establish David’s kingdom forever. The Davidic Covenant is the means by which God will ultimately fulfill His promise to Abraham. So in linking David with the Captivity, Matthew focuses his readers again on the promise of God. And by linking the Babylonian captivity with Christ in the last “generational” marker, Matthew suggests that this promise of God is finally and fully fulfilled in the Person of Christ.
At the very beginning of his gospel, Matthews takes his readers back through their Scripture to the promise of a King and His Kingdom, and suggests that this promise in now being fulfilled with the coming of Christ. He then continues his presentation of Jesus as the promised King by recounting His birth and the events surrounding this occasion. Matthew continually stresses the fact that the Scripture is being fulfilled. In Christ’s birth, in the story of the Wise Men, in the story of His flight into (and out of) Egypt, in the effort of Herod to kill Him, and even in His residence at Nazareth; in all of these episodes, Matthew is making his case that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scripture, that Jesus is the “true” Israel, that this Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and their King.
Even before he brings John the Baptist into the equation, Matthew is determined to present Jesus as the King. And with the entrance of John onto the scene, the people should have been fully aware that the Messiah has arrived. The people knew that immediately before the revealing of the Messiah, His “forerunner” would come to “make ready the way of the Lord, (to) make His paths straight”. The ministry of this “forerunner” was singularly-focused—to announce the coming of the King. What was John’s message? “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
John is announcing the arrival of the King and His Kingdom by calling the people to repent. Remember, the people have been looking for their Messiah/King for generations. They have not lost this hope. They believe their Scripture. They know that God has promised to set His King on the throne of David and to establish His Kingdom forever. The prophets stressed over and over again that God would fulfill His word and restore the Kingdom. The people rightly hoped in and looked for the coming of their King and His establishment of the Kingdom.
The prophets even spoke of this restoration in the language of Cosmic Renewal; that the entire Creation would participate in this Redemption and Renewal when the Servant / Messiah / King comes and sets up His Kingdom. They didn’t necessarily foresee an “age” in which this Kingdom would be “being built” in a “spiritual” manifestation before it consummates in a Universal and Cosmic renewal; but they did “comfort” the people with a message of hope. God was faithful and He would keep His word. He would send the Servant / Messiah / King as the true “Israel” and establish His Kingdom.
Matthew presents John as the forerunner who prepares the way for the coming of the Lord. John’s message of repentance was for the purpose of causing the people to re-think their understanding of the Kingdom. They rightly hoped for the coming of the King and His Kingdom, but they were looking for an earthly “savior” who would re-establish the earthly kingdom of Israel (does this remind you of anyone?) so that they would no longer be oppressed by the nations around them. The people were looking for a deliverer to remove the yoke of Rome and to establish Israel with the glory it once had under David / Solomon. They didn’t properly understand the nature of the Kingdom that their Scripture spoke of and promised. This is why John (and then Jesus) found such fault with them: they rightly believed their Scripture that God has promised the Kingdom; but they misunderstood what this Kingdom would be like. They rightly hoped in the coming of the Messiah, but didn’t understand their Scripture and therefore didn’t recognize Him when He came. John, and Jesus after him, called for the people to repent, to re-think their Scripture and its promise of the Kingdom otherwise they were going to miss it!
Throughout the first four chapters, Matthew is establishing the fact that Jesus is the long-awaited King. I’ll begin the next post with the Baptism of Jesus and we’ll see how here and in the Temptation (and even previously with Jesus’ flight to Egypt) Matthew is showing how that Jesus is not only the promised King, but that He is also the true “Israel”. Matthew understands the Scripture. He understands that all the Scripture is prophetic and testifies of Christ. He understands that even the nation of Israel itself was prophetic, that it was typological and spoke of a true “Israel” to come. Matthew shows us how Jesus fulfills “Israel” in His recapitulation of Israel. The point he is making is that their hope for the Kingdom is found only in the One who is the embodiment of “Israel”. Their own hope of being the people of God is fulfilled only in the One who is the true Israel of God, the true Son of God.
We’ll explore this important understanding next time. Right now, it’s important to see that Matthew spends four chapters stating his case before he records Jesus’ words in The Sermon. And he does this so that The Sermon would be understood by his readers. The Sermon is Jesus’ Gospel of the Kingdom. The Sermon is designed to lead the people to repentance. Jesus’ message, like that of John, was, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”, and The Sermon was Jesus’ repentance call.