My Exposition of the Gospel of Matthew

Beginning June 30, 2013, I entered the world of Matthew’s Gospel at Kosmosdale Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. I completed the exposition of the book on April 10, 2016, in a total of 123 sermons. The number of weeks between those dates doesn’t match the 123 sermons because I took brief breaks between chunks of the book.

In June 2013, I started with Matthew 3 for a couple of reasons:

  1. I had just completed an exposition of Malachi and so moved immediately from the promise of the future Elijah (Mal. 4:4-6) to his arrival in John the Baptist (Matt. 3).
  2. I wanted to save Matthew 1-2 for later that year as an Advent series.

Throughout my many months in the First Gospel, several passages stand out in my memory as especially edifying to my soul as I studied for them and preach them:

  1. Jesus’ words about fasting in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 6:16-18)
  2. Jesus’ cleansing of a leper (Matt. 8:1-4)
  3. Jesus’ pronouncement of woes on unrepentant regions (Matt. 11:20-24)
  4. Jesus’ rejection at his hometown synagogue (Matt. 13:53-58)
  5. Jesus’ walk upon the water (Matt. 14:22-33)
  6. Jesus’ second explicit teaching about his death and resurrection (Matt. 17:22-23)
  7. Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35)
  8. Jesus’ healing of two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34)
  9. Jesus’ prayers in Gethsemane (Matt. 26:31-46)
  10. Jesus’ betrayal and arrest (Matt. 26:47-56)
  11. Jesus’ Jewish trial (Matt. 26:57-68)
  12. Jesus’ burial by Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57-61)
  13. Jesus’ great commission to his disciples (Matt. 28:16-20)

Having preached lengthy series before during my time in pastoral ministry–such as John, Acts, and Romans–the series in Matthew was my longest exposition thus far. Throughout 123 sermons, I was continually reminded of the benefits of book exposition. Here are three:

  1. The congregation becoming intimately acquainted with a book of the Bible, especially one the size of Matthew
  2. The congregation beholding the intertextual connections and unfolding arrangement of a book of the Bible
  3. The congregation hearing passages that may otherwise not be preached, such as the opening genealogy (Matt. 1:1-17), divorce and remarriage (5:31-32; 19:1-12), fasting (6:16-18), the temple tax (17:24-27), the cursing of the fig tree (21:18-22), and the suicide of Judas (27:3-10)

I loved preaching through Matthew’s Gospel for many reasons. Here are ten, in no particular order:

  1. It’s the doorway into the New Testament canon
  2. It’s the First of the Four Gospels
  3. Its various and frequent uses of the Old Testament through quotation, allusion, and echo
  4. Its wonderful mixture of narrative sequences and lengthy teaching discourses
  5. Its many parables
  6. Its lengthy narration of Passion Week (Matt. 21-28)
  7. Its lengthy Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24-25)
  8. Its overlap with Mark’s Gospel is so strong that preaching through Matthew is like preaching through Mark as well (approximately 90% of Mark is in Matthew)
  9. Its unique stories among the Gospels, such as the visit of the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12)
  10. Its literary artistry–and time would fail me in this post to reflect on the many examples of this Gospel’s beauty, cohesion, and inner-connections

I profited so much from New Testament scholars, especially the commentaries by:

  1. R. T. France
  2. Grant Osborne
  3. Leon Morris
  4. John Nolland
  5. [Jonathan Pennington–his name would certainly go here, but his commentary isn’t available yet! :) ]

By God’s grace, I never felt weary preaching so many sermons from Matthew’s Gospel. And again by God’s grace, the congregation was continually receptive and encouraging, month after month. We anticipated the completion of the Gospel together.

This past Sunday, as soon as I preached the last sermon in Matthew 28, one of our deacons came up and asked me what I was preaching the following Sunday. “Will you be going to Mark 1?” he asked (with perhaps a hint of concern in his voice, though I wasn’t sure). Now canonically, of course, Mark 1 follows Matthew 28, but I answered “No” with a smile.

Praise God for the Gospel of Matthew! Our Savior is Jesus, who is Immanuel, Son of David, Son of Abraham, the Seed of the Woman, the one greater than the temple, the one greater than Solomon, the longed-for prophet like Moses, the Suffering Servant, the Christ, the righteous sufferer, the final sacrifice, the ultimate temple, the perfect high priest, the last Adam, and the firstfruits of resurrection.

Plagues, Passover, and the Cross of Christ

darkness at the cross of jesusJesus didn’t die on just any week of the year. He died on Passover, a festival recalling the book of Exodus when it was first instituted. Passover, and the slaying of a spotless lamb, remembered when God’s judgment passed over those whose homes were covered with blood on the doorposts and lintel. God had raised up a deliverer, Moses, who would lead the captives free through a mighty exodus.

Jesus was crucified between two criminals around 9 a.m. on Friday (Mark 15:25), and for three hours the scene resembled the hundreds of crucifixions that the Romans were used to performing. But around noon, darkness covered the whole land for three hours, ending at approximately 3 p.m. (Matt. 27:45).

Given the context of Passover, the covering of the land with darkness probably evokes the ninth plague in Exodus. In Exodus 10:21, God told Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” And the darkness was all over the land of Egypt for three days (10:22).

From noon to 3 p.m. on the day of Jesus’ death, darkness covered another land entirely for a span of time numbered with “three”–this time, though, for three hours, not three days. Such pervasive darkness denotes something supernatural, the judgment of God. As one preacher said, by God’s power it looked like midnight at midday.

At approximately 3 p.m., God’s Son died on the cross (Matt. 27:46, 50). Since the darkness during Passover already recalled the ninth plague, perhaps the subsequent death of Jesus recalled the tenth in Exodus 12. In Exodus 12:29, God struck down “all the firstborn in the land of Egypt . . .” And on the cross, God struck down his own Son. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was not spared. He himself would be the sacrifice whose blood would cover others.

The scene at Golgotha not only portrayed Jesus as the spotless and slain Lamb, it described events of darkness and death that, in the context of Passover, recalled the ninth and tenth plagues in Exodus. The story in the Four Gospels is that God had once again raised up a deliverer, this time one who would lead the captives free from sin and Satan. The Messiah’s victory would surpass any Old Testament conquest.

13 Posts on Gethsemane

Jesus in gethsemaneIn January 2016, I wrote a series of posts on Gethsemane as I prepared to preach on our Lord’s sorrowful praying and his subsequent arrest from Matthew’s Gospel.

Here’s the round-up of 13 posts that take you through the events of that Thursday night and the early hours of Friday morning. On this Passion Week, let’s reflect on our Lord’s experience in that garden where he resolved to drink the cup.

  1. Jesus communed with his Father as if alone in the Most Holy Place.
  2. As the Last Adam, Jesus faced temptation and overcame it.
  3. His prayers were expressions of reverence, not rebellion.
  4. At Gethsemane, Jesus was a true and greater Job.
  5. He was also a true and greater Isaac.
  6. Believers can learn about prayer by beholding Jesus at Gethsemane, for our flesh is weak.
  7. This Jesus, once transfigured before his disciples, was now in agony.
  8. The agony ends with the resolve of Jesus to meet his hour of suffering head-on.
  9. When the arresting party comes to Gethsemane, Jesus is in control.
  10. Judas, one of the Twelve, led the armed crowd to Jesus.
  11. Peter wounded a man with his sword, but Jesus told him to put it away.
  12. Jesus healed the wounded man amid the arresting crowd.
  13. The sword-swinging disciple would go from defending Jesus to denying him.

“Rabbi” vs. “Lord” from the Mouth of Judas

In the two places where Judas addresses Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Judas calls him “Rabbi.”

  • 26:25, Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
  • 26:49-50, And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”

This title is woefully inadequate, especially given all that Judas has heard Jesus say and seen him do. At the Last Supper scene, the other disciples called Jesus “Lord” (Matt. 26:22). But Judas didn’t use the title “Lord.” When his turn came, he said “Rabbi.”

The use of “Rabbi” shows the spiritual distance of Judas from Jesus. Is that title really the best he could do?

Jesus had driven out demons, healed paralytics, fed thousands with some bread and fish, walked on water, stilled a storm at sea, and made the blind see. After witnessing all these miracles and more, and after three years of ministry with Jesus, the word Judas decides to use is “Rabbi.”

A Miracle in the Garden of Gethsemane

On the night Jesus was arrested, Gethsemane was a place of intimidation. A sword-and-club-wielding crowd entered the garden with Judas leading the way. Then Judas gave the kiss of betrayal, cuing the arresting party to make their move.

But when they seized Jesus, things took a violent turn. Peter drew his sword and swung at the high priest’s servant Malchus, cutting off the man’s ear (Matt. 26:51; John 18:10). All Four Gospels report this physical intervention. And all four also report Jesus’ instructions to Peter: “Put away your sword.”

Only Luke’s Gospel tells us what Jesus did next for the high priest’s servant. He turned to the wounded man and “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51). A miracle, right there in the Garden of Gethsemane. A miracle, right in the middle of the armed crowd’s efforts to seize Jesus. A miracle, right there for the opposition to see and remember.

Did anyone in the crowd second-guess what they’d come to do? What was Malchus thinking after he left the garden that night?

Jesus was certainly no threat. In the face of hostility, he showed compassion when the opposite might have been expected. Surrounded by his enemies and accompanied by his wavering disciples, Jesus displayed strength and restraint, power and humility, authority and mercy.

The Words of Judas in the Gospel of Matthew

While each Gospel reports that Jesus had twelve disciples, we only know a few of the things they said. In Matthew we hear the voice of Judas four times, in 26:15; 26:25; 26:49; 27:4.

  • “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” (26:15)
  • “Is it I, Rabbi?” (26:25)
  • “Greetings, Rabbi!” (26:49)
  • “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” (27:4)

Let’s observe some features of these lines from the mouth of Judas.

  1. The first two lines are questions, and the last two lines are statements.
  2. The middle two lines both use the title “Rabbi.”
  3. The middle two lines are both directed at Jesus.
  4. The first and last lines are both directed at the chief priests.
  5. Each line is associated in some way with Jesus’ betrayal.
  6. The first line results in Judas receiving thirty pieces of silver, while the last line results in Judas giving back the money.

Notice anything else?

The Disillusionment of Peter at Gethsemane: Moving from Defending Jesus to Denying Jesus

All four Gospels report Peter’s denial of Jesus. And though Peter denied that he would ever deny Jesus (Matt. 26:35), Jesus had prophesied a threefold denial before the night was over (26:34).

It was the night of Jesus’ arrest on Passion Week. The disciples were at Gethsemane with Jesus, who had been praying in close proximity to Peter, James, and John (Matt. 26:36-44). Then the betrayer, Judas, arrived to fulfill his arrangement with the religious leaders (26:14-16, 45-46). He kissed Jesus, which signaled the arresting party to make their move (26:49-50). Peter intervened, drawing his sword and slicing off a man’s ear (26:51). Then Jesus told Peter, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (26:52).

Peter didn’t want the arrest to happen. On an earlier occasion, he had protested Jesus’ teachings about suffering in Jerusalem and being killed (Matt. 16:21). At that time Peter had taken Jesus aside and rebuked him: “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (16:22). And though Jesus had continued to teach about his coming suffering and death (17:22-23; 20:17-19), Peter had not accepted this as the Messiah’s work.

Peter believed a commonly-held view about the Messiah, that at his coming the Promised One would overthrow the political powers, liberate God’s people, establish the kingdom of God, vindicate the righteous, and pour out justice on God’s enemies. The idea of God’s Messiah having to suffer and die challenged this prevailing view. The Son of David would come to rule and reign, not die, right?

Back to Gethsemane. The thing Peter did not want to happen was happening before his very eyes. Authorities had seized his Messiah. God’s Promised One was being taken into custody. So Peter rushed to defend him. What a display of boldness and courage–and misunderstanding.

The scene became a moment of disillusionment for Peter, because Jesus looked at him and said, “Put your sword back into its place” (Matt. 26:52a). Jesus stopped Peter from stopping the arrest. The arrest must happen, that Scripture be fulfilled (26:54, 56). Peter had not yet embraced the role Jesus had come to embody: a Messiah who would reign and establish God’s kingdom but who must first suffer and die. “Put your sword back into its place” was a command that must have jarred the disciple. Jesus really planned to go through suffering and death! The Christ, whom Peter had followed for years and believed to be the Son of God, was seized as the disciples looked on.

This was a crucial moment in Peter’s life. His sword-swinging instinct may have shown boldness and resolve, but before the night was over, Peter would say of Jesus, “I do not know the man” (Matt. 26:72). He would deny Jesus not once, not twice, but three times (26:70, 72, 74), just as Jesus had said (26:34).

Jesus didn’t seem to be the Messiah whom Peter expected. Arrest didn’t look like triumph. Being taken into custody didn’t look like God’s kingdom coming. What a moment of disillusionment for Peter! If we see Peter’s boldness at Gethsemane and his cowardice at the high priest’s courtyard and then ask, What changed? What made him go from defending Jesus to denying Jesus? The narrative may give us the turning point in Matthew 26:52, when Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place.”