Introduction - Matthew’s handbook for the church
Why did Matthew write his gospel? John clearly had an evangelistic aim (Jn 20:31), but Matthew wrote his gospel for the church, for those who already follow Jesus. It is a teaching gospel, which arranges its material into subjects, summarising the teaching of Jesus and illustrating it with examples from his life. Matthew’s is the only gospel that mentions the church (16:18; 18:17). In short, Matthew wrote the first discipleship training course!
Matthew divides his material into 5 sections, each of which contains a number of stories from the life of Jesus, and concludes with a chapter (or two or three) of extended teaching by Jesus to his disciples, before finishing with the passion narrative of the death and resurrection of Jesus. This fivefold division was no accident, for Matthew was a Jewish Christian (and former tax-collector), and all Jewish writings of his time followed this pattern (based on the 5 books of Torah - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy).
Why did Matthew write this gospel for the church? He probably wrote it at a time when church and synagogue were growing apart, when the distinction between Jew and Christian was becoming more obvious. At first, most if not all followers of Jesus were Jewish. But over time, as more and more Gentiles found new life in Jesus, an ‘either/or’ situation developed. Matthew’s church was probably made up of Jewish Christians, facing increasing pressure over their (apparently) divided loyalties. And he wanted to show them that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah, fulfilment of the Hebrew Scriptures, and that they were not being unfaithful to their roots by being Christians. So how is this relevant to us? Matthew’s church has been described as “a community cut off from its roots......divided in itself as to what its priorities should be, groping for direction in the face of previously-unknown problems” (David Bosch, ‘Transforming Mission’, p58). Does this sound familiar, such as our own context today? And Matthew’s response? “His concern is not simply to help his people cope with the new pressures they confront, but to assist them in developing a missionary ethos that will match the challenges of a new epoch” (Bosch, ibid). Matthew’s aim is therefore both pastoral and missionary – pastoral, in wishing to convey selfconfidence to a community of Christians facing a crisis of identity; and missionary, in seeking to embolden them toward seeing opportunities for witness and service around them. So this is very relevant to us. Matthew has written a gospel for the church, for those who follow Jesus, to encourage and motivate them, to give them confidence about who they are, and to direct them outwards, to share the good news with others.
Matthew’s understanding of mission - making disciples
The theme of discipleship is central to Matthew’s gospel, and the term ‘disciple’ is used far more often by him than by Mark or Luke (Mt 73, Mk 46, Lk 37 times). But while in Mark and Luke, ‘disciple’ is the term reserved only for the Twelve, in Matthew it is used more widely, of any follower of Jesus. The Twelve are the prototypes for all disciples, who are to copy them, doing the things they did. And as well as being linked to the first band of disciples, any contemporary disciples are also linked to each other. No disciple can follow Jesus alone, but is irrevocably linked to the fellowship of disciples, the ekklesia, the church (which, as above, is why Matthew mentions it). There is a strong emphasis in Matthew’s gospel on doing God’s will, keeping his commands, and the challenge to be perfect, to surpass or excel, to observe or keep, to teach, and to bear fruit. Consider for example the concern for doing God’s will. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are to pray that His will be...