Twenty or thirty years after Jesus had gone back to heaven, a Jewish disciple named Matthew was inspired by the Spirit of God to write a book. The finished product is what we know today as "The Gospel According to Matthew."
Nowhere in the four Gospels do we find a single recorded word that Matthew spoke. Yet in his Gospel, he gives us the words and works of Jesus Christ, "the Son of David, the Son of Abraham" (Matt. 1:1). Matthew did not write to tell us about himself. But let's get acquainted with him and the book he wrote. Then we can learn all that he wanted us to know about Jesus Christ.
The Holy Spirit used Matthew to accomplish three important tasks in the writing of his Gospel.
That book was the New Testament. If a Bible reader were to jump from Malachi into Mark, or Acts, or Romans, he would be bewildered. Matthew's Gospel is the bridge that leads us out of the Old Testament and into the New Testament.
The theme of the Old Testament is given in Genesis 5:1: "This is the book of the generations of Adam." The Old Testament gives the history of "the Adam family," and it is a sad history indeed. God created man in His own image, but man sinned—thus defiling and deforming that image. Then man brought forth children "in his own likeness, after his image" (Gen. 5:3). These children proved themselves to be sinners like their parents. No matter where you read in the Old Testament, you meet sin and sinners.
But the New Testament is, "The book of the generation of Jesus Christ" (Matt. 1:1). Jesus is the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), and He came to earth to save the "generations of Adam." (This includes you and me, by the way.) Through no choice of our own, we were born into the generations of Adam, and this made us sinners. But by a choice of faith, we can be born into the generation of Jesus Christ and become the children of God!
When you read the genealogy in Genesis 5, the repeated phrase and he died sounds like the tolling of a funeral bell. The Old Testament illustrates the truth that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). But when you turn to the New Testament, that first genealogy emphasizes birth and not death! The message of the New Testament is that "the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 6:23).
The Old Testament is a book of promise, while the New Testament is a book of fulfillment. (To be sure, there are many precious promises in the New Testament. But I am referring to the emphasis of each half of the Bible.) Beginning with Genesis 3:15, God promised a Redeemer; and Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise. Fulfilled is one of the key words in the Gospel of Matthew, used about fifteen times.
One purpose of this Gospel is to show that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Old Testament promises concerning the Messiah. His birth at Bethlehem fulfilled Isaiah 7:14 (Matt. 1:22-23). Jesus was taken to Egypt for safety, and this fulfilled Hosea 11:1 (Matt. 2:14-15). When Joseph and the family returned and decided to settle in Nazareth, this fulfilled several Old Testament prophecies (Matt. 2:22-23). Matthew used at least 129 quotations or allusions to the Old Testament in this Gospel. He wrote primarily for Jewish readers to show them that Jesus Christ was indeed their promised Messiah.
None of the four Gospels is a biography in the modern sense of the word. In fact, the Apostle John doubted that a complete biography of Jesus could ever be written (John 21:25). There are many details about the earthly life of Jesus that are not given in any of the Gospels.
Each of the four Gospels has its own emphasis. Matthew's book is called, "the Gospel of the King." It was written primarily for Jewish readers. Mark's book, the Gospel of the Servant, was written to instruct Roman readers. Luke wrote mainly to the Greeks and presented Christ as the perfect "Son of man." John's appeal is universal, and his message was, "This is the Son of God." No one Gospel is able to tell the whole story as God wants us to see it. But when we put these four Gospel accounts together, we have a composite picture of the person and work of our Lord.
Being accustomed to keeping systematic records, Matthew gives us a beautifully organized account of our Lord's life and ministry. The book can be divided into ten sections in which "doing" and "teaching" alternate. Each teaching section ends with, "When Jesus had ended these sayings" or a similar transitional statement. The chapters can be divided like this:
|26:1-28:20 (the Passion narrative)|
Matthew described Jesus as the Doer and the Teacher. He recorded at least twenty specific miracles and six major messages: the Sermon on the Mount (chaps. 5-7), the charge to the apostles (chap. 10), the parables of the kingdom (chap. 13), the lesson on forgiveness (chap. 18), the denunciation of the Pharisees (chap. 23), and the prophetic discourse on the Mount of Olives (chaps. 24-25). At least 60 percent of this book focuses on the teachings of Jesus.
Remember, Matthew focuses on the kingdom. In the Old Testament, the Jewish nation was God's kingdom on earth: "And you shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. 19:6). Many people in Jesus' day were looking for the God-sent Deliverer who would release them from Roman bondage and reestablish the glorious kingdom of Israel.
The message of the kingdom of heaven was first preached by John the Baptist (Matt. 3:1-2). The Lord Jesus also preached this message from the very beginning of His ministry (Matt. 4:23). He sent out the 12 Apostles with the same proclamation (Matt. 10:1-7).
However, the Good News of the kingdom required a moral and spiritual response from the people, and not simply the acceptance of a ruler. John the Baptist called for repentance. Likewise, Jesus made it clear that He had not come to overcome Rome, but to transform the hearts and lives of those who trusted Him. Before He could enter into the glory of the kingdom, Jesus endured the suffering of the cross.
One further word about this Gospel. Matthew arranged his material in a topical order, rather than chronological. He grouped ten miracles together in chapters 8-9 instead of putting them into their historical sequence in the Gospel's narrative. Certain other events are totally omitted. By consulting a good harmony of the Gospels, you will see that, while Matthew does not contradict the other three Gospel writers, he does follow his own pattern.
Matthew was not only a bridge-builder who introduced a new book, the New Testament; and a biographer who introduced a new King, Jesus Christ; but he also accomplished a third task when he wrote his book.
This new people, of course, was the church. Matthew is the only Gospel writer to use the word church (Matt. 16:18; 18:17). The Greek word translated church means "a called-out assembly." In the New Testament, for the most part, this word refers to a local assembly of believers. In the Old Testament, Israel was God's called-out people, beginning with the call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1ff; Deut. 7:6-8). In fact, Stephen called the nation of Israel "the church [assembly] in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38), for they were God's called-out people.
But the New Testament church is a different people, for it is composed of both Jews and Gentiles. In this church there were no racial distinctions (Gal. 3:28). Even though Matthew wrote primarily for the Jews, he has a "universal" element in his book that includes the Gentiles. For example, Gentile leaders came to worship the Infant Jesus (Matt. 2:1-12). Jesus performed miracles for Gentiles and even commended them for their faith (Matt. 8:5-13; 15:21-28). The Gentile Queen of Sheba was praised for her willingness to make a long journey to hear God's wisdom (Matt. 12:42). At a crisis hour in Jesus' ministry He turned to a prophecy about the Gentiles (Matt. 12:14-21). Even in the parables, Jesus indicated that the blessings which Israel refused would be shared with the Gentiles (Matt. 22:8-10; 21:40-46). The Olivet Discourse stated that the message would go "unto all nations" (Matt. 24:14); and the Lord's commission involves all nations (Matt. 28:19-20).
There were only believing Jews and believing Jewish proselytes in the church at the beginning (Acts 2-7). When the Gospel went to Samaria (Acts 8), people who were part Jewish and part Gentile came into the church. When Peter went to the household of Cornelius (Acts 10), the Gentiles became fully accepted in the church. The Conference at Jerusalem (Acts 15), settled the decision that a Gentile did not have to become a Jew before he could become a Christian.
But Matthew anticipated all of this. And when his book was read by members of the early church, both Jews and Gentiles, it helped to settle differences and create unity. Matthew made it clear that this new people, the church, must not maintain a racial or social exclusiveness. Faith in Jesus Christ makes believers "all one" in the body of Christ, the church.
Matthew's own experience with the Lord is recorded in Matthew 9:9-17; and it is a beautiful example of the grace of God. His old name was Levi, the son of Alphaeus (Mark 2:14). "Matthew" means "the gift of God." Apparently, the name was given to commemorate his conversion and his call to be a disciple.
Remember that tax collectors were among the most hated people in Jewish society. To begin with, they were traitors to their own nation because they "sold themselves" to the Romans to work for the government. Each tax collector purchased from Rome the right to gather taxes; and the more he gathered, the more he could keep. They were considered thieves as well as traitors; and their constant contacts with Gentiles made them religiously suspect, if not unclean. Jesus reflected the popular view of the publicans when He classified them with harlots and other sinners (Matt. 5:46-47; 18:17); but it was obvious that He was the "friend of publicans and sinners" (Matt. 11:19; 21:31-32).
Matthew opened his heart to Jesus Christ and became a new person. This was not an easy decision for him to make. He was a native of Capernaum, and Capernaum had rejected the Lord (Matt. 11:23). Matthew was a well-known businessman in the city, and his old friends probably persecuted him. Certainly Matthew lost a good deal of income when he left all to follow Christ.
Matthew not only opened his heart, but he also opened his home. He knew that most, if not all, of his old friends would drop him when he began to follow Jesus Christ; so Matthew took advantage of the situation and invited them to meet Jesus. He gave a great feast and invited all the other tax collectors (some of whom could have been Gentiles), and the Jewish people who were not keeping the Law ("sinners").
Of course, the Pharisees criticized Jesus for daring to eat with such a defiled group of people. They even tried to get the disciples of John the Baptist to create a disagreement (Luke 5:33). The Lord explained why He was fellowshipping with "publicans and sinners": They were spiritually sick and needed a physician. He had not come to call the righteous because there were no righteous people. He came to call sinners, and that included the Pharisees. Of course, His critics did not consider themselves "spiritually sick," but they were just the same.
Matthew not only opened his heart and home, but he also opened his hands and worked for Christ. Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh once said that, when Matthew left his job to follow Christ, he brought his pen with him! Little did this ex-publican realize that the Holy Spirit would one day use him to write the first of the four Gospels in the New Testament.
According to tradition, Matthew ministered in Palestine for several years after the Lord's return to heaven, and then made missionary journeys to the Jews who were dispersed among the Gentiles. His work is associated with Persia, Ethiopia, and Syria, and some traditions associate him with Greece. The New Testament is silent on his life, but this we do know: Wherever the Scriptures travel in this world, the Gospel written by Matthew continues to minister to hearts.