Keys to Teaching Christ in Matthew
Matthew’s gospel presents Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes for a Messiah. Jesus isn’t exactly what Israel was expecting, but he’s exactly what they needed. In a statement that could be considered programmatic for Matthew’s gospel, the angel announces to Joseph, “You shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Preaching Christ from Matthew means always showing how Jesus is not only a moral teacher and example (though he certainly is), but also how he saves his people from their sins.
One danger in preaching the gospels is preaching a lot about Christ without actually preaching Christ. It would be easy to preach a moralistic sermon based on the teaching of Jesus. But explaining the moral commands Jesus gives is not the same as preaching Christ. Paul says to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2). If this principle is to shape our preaching, then when we’re preaching through the Sermon on the Mount (for instance), we should preach not only the commands of Jesus but also the crucifixion of Jesus.
Preaching Christ in the gospel of Matthew will include showing Jesus as our instructor and our example. But that alone would be insufficient. Preaching Christ in the gospels must also always show Jesus as our redeemer and deliverer.
Matthew 1:21-23. The name “Jesus” reflects his central purpose and work: to save his people from their sins. N. T. Wright says, “One could make a case for seeing an overall plot for Matthew’s gospel in terms of the programmatic statement in Matthew 1:21, where the angel tells Joseph: ‘You are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (The New Testament In Its World, 580)
Matthew 4:17. The central message of Jesus to repent and believe in order to enter the kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:17-20. The Sermon on the Mount calls us to an unattainable standard: perfection (Matt 5:48). But Jesus tells us in 5:17 that he himself is the fulfillment of the righteousness that the law requires. He is the righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees (5:20). Bonhoeffer: “Christ himself is the sine qua non of this better righteousness… This is the fundamental presupposition of the whole Sermon on the Mount… He has, in fact, nothing to add to the commandments of God, except this, that he keeps them.”
Matthew 11:25-30. Jesus calls those who are burdened by law-keeping to rest in him. This invitation is not opposed to holiness, but rather it is opposed to self-salvation. As Dallas Willard pointed out, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.”
Matthew 26:26-28. The death of Jesus (body broken and blood poured out) are the means by which forgiveness of sins comes. How does he “save his people from their sins” (1:21)? Through his substitutionary death.
Matthew 28:5-9. The resurrection of Jesus leads his people to fear him, to rejoice in him and to worship him. This is why the resurrection of Jesus is one of the historical components that Paul identifies as lying at the center of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-4). If the death of Jesus is the means by which he forgives their sins, then the resurrection of Jesus is the means by which they are assured of eternal life in the presence of God (cf. Rom. 8:11; Eph. 1:19-20; 2:5-6).
The King of the Kingdom. Jesus is present as the fulfillment of Israel’s hopes for a deliverer. Matthew is famous for his use of the fulfillment formula: “this was to fulfill…” (cf. 1:22; 2:15; 2:17; 3:3; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 13:51-52). Reflecting on 1:21, N. T. Wright says, “The very sentence which is found to be thematic for the main plot—the prediction that Jesus ‘will save his people from their sins’—presupposes a previous story as well. It assumes that the gospel story comes towards the end of a larger and longer narrative, in which ‘his people’ fall victim to ‘their sins’” (The NT In Its World, 581).
The Nature of the Kingdom. Matthew presents it distinctively as “the kingdom of heaven” (3:2; 4:17; 5:20; 10:7). The kingdom is foreshadowed by the healing ministry of Jesus, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illnesses and bore our diseases’” (Matt. 8:17). These events not only show us the compassion of Jesus, but also give us a foretaste of what life will be like in the kingdom of heaven.
The Citizens of the Kingdom. Kingdom citizens are presented as disciples, those who respond to the invitations of Jesus to follow him. Jesus invites people to find life, joy and rest by following him (4:19; 11:28). The right response to these invitations is faith and repentance, both of which are prominent in this gospel as well. Thomas Watson said, “The two great graces essential to a saint in this life are faith and repentance. These are the two wings by which he flies to heaven” (Doctrine of Repentance, 7).
Matthew (Expositor’s Bible Commentary), D. A. Caron. The best commentary on Matthew, pastorally and technically helpful, as is Carson’s standalone work on the Sermon on the Mount.
Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Focused on Matthew, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
Gentle and Lowly, Dane Ortlund. This devotional book is a gold mine of meditations on the heart of Jesus as he describes himself in Matthew 11:29, “I am gentle and lowly in heart.”
The Whole Christ, Sinclair Ferguson. This wonderful book reminds us that the gospel is not the benefits Christ brings, but that Christ himself is the gospel. Chapter 2 especially shows how Christ himself is the gospel. A typical quote: “It is even possible to preach through one of the Gospels with a focus on how we share the experience of the various characters in the narratives. While this is proper in its place, it can easily divert us from the central question: Who is the Christ who IS the gospel, and how is he equipped to save us? (p. 49).
Matthew’s gospel presents Jesus as the Savior who forgives his people’s sins through his death and guarantees them life through his resurrection. ‘His people’ are the ones who respond to his invitations with faith and repentance. Preaching Christ in the gospel of Matthew will always include the teaching and works of Jesus as well as the redemption that we have through him.