4 Reasons You Should Preach through the Gospel of Matthew
Jesus appears in the Gospel of Matthew as the long-expected Messiah of Israel (Matt 1:1), the Teacher greater than Moses (Matt 5–7), the Son of David who will rule and save his people (Matt 1:1, 21), the Son of Man who has the authority to forgive sins (Matt 9:6), and the Son of God who gives his life for his chosen people (Matt 26:63; 27:40, 43, 54).
Matthew’s Gospel reveals the wisdom of the gospel message and the new way of life that results as disciples discover truth through encounters with Jesus. Additionally, Matthew’s Gospel makes clear through these encounters that the call of the gospel is to allegiance. Jesus’ kingdom vision re-socializes us by deconstructing our values and then reconstructing them in new, kingdom-oriented, God-directed ways that are often counter-cultural and very unnatural.
But Matthew does more than merely share stories of Jesus’ life. And this is why you should preach through it. Below are four more reasons.
1) The power and importance of biblical narrative.
One of the keys to preaching the Gospels well is to read them with the literary features of a narrative in mind. This is especially true when preaching the carefully crafted book of Matthew. Here are two crucial questions preachers should ask while trying to understand individual scenes throughout the Gospel: “Where will I see this again?” and “Where have I seen this before?”
For example, at both the beginning and end of this Gospel, one of Matthew’s chief concerns is to clarify the identity of Jesus. Who is this man? Look at the last line of the book: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It’s clear that Matthew wants readers to see that the promise of the first chapter—“‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us)”—has been fulfilled in the last chapter. Jesus is the “Immanuel” (Matt 1:23). And now Jesus declares that he will be with his followers always. The only appropriate reaction to that statement is worship—worship of the one true God who is now revealed in Matthew’s Gospel as Jesus himself (Matt 28:17).
2) The Christological portrait.
Matthew tells us the reason Jesus came to die—to forgive his people of their sin (Matt 1:21). But the logical interpretive question remains: “Why?” In this Gospel narrative, why does Jesus the Son of God hang upon the cross and die?
Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ divine sonship. He accentuates his identity as the Son of God. This child, born of the virgin Mary, is the Son of God (Matt 1:18, 20; cf. 27:54). This child who becomes a man is lifted up on a Roman cross; he is the Christ of God (John 3:14–15). The dignity of the title—“Son of God”—would not have been conferred upon him at his death unless he was the only-begotten Son of God. So Calvin states, “[He] is believed to be the Son of God because the Word begotten of the Father before all ages took human nature in a hypostatic union.”
Matthew’s Christological portrait enables preachers to feature two specific aspects of Christology designed to emphasize both the person and work of Jesus simultaneously.
First, divine sonship is associated with humble obedience. This is evident by Matthew’s use of the clause—“If you are the Son of God”—in Matthew 27:40. This is a direct quotation of Satan’s words spoken to Jesus during his wilderness temptation (Matt 4:3, 6). As Satan tempted Jesus, so now the religious leaders tempt Jesus while he hangs on the cross (Matt 27:40, 42). And yet, he doesn’t capitulate to their prodding or meet their demands. Rather, he chooses to do the will of God. The Son of God was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8; cf. Heb 5:8). As a true servant, the Son of God chose to obey at the cost of his life.
Second, divine sonship is directly associated with the forgiveness of sins. The Son of God took on flesh that he might be the redeemer of God’s elect people. Three examples throughout Matthew’s Gospel clarify this point. First, Jesus’ name has redemptive significance and indicates the salvific implications of his incarnation (Matt 1:21; cf. Acts 4:12). Second, though divine, Jesus took on flesh with the intention of giving his life as a ransom for God’s chosen people (Matt 20:28). Third, the sacrifice of the Son of God actualized the atonement (Matt 26:28). In other words, Matthew doesn’t portray the cross as an opportunity; instead, it makes redemption a reality! In Matthew’s Gospel-narrative, Jesus came to save his people from their sins by giving his life as a ransom for their sins. In Matthew’s Gospel, the cross is the place where the Son of God sheds his blood to actualize the redemption of God’s elect (Matt 27:22–26). The crucifixion of Jesus is the culmination of the purpose of Christ’s incarnation—redemption. The only reason given in Scripture that the Son of God willed to take on flesh, and accepted this commandment from the Father, is that he would be a sacrifice to appease the Father on our behalf.
3) The missiological agenda.
Jesus entered the world unlike any other man. He died as no other person in history. And Matthew teaches us that his life and death demand a response. The confession of the centurion guard reveals a missiological result as both Jewish saints and Roman Gentiles testify to Jesus’ identity (Matt 27:53–54; cf. 3:17; 14:33; 17:5). This accentuates the mission his death necessitates—Jesus’ death is life-giving (Matt 27:54) and salvific for persons from every nation who profess faith in his name (Matt 28:16–20).
The central purpose of Jesus’ mission is revealed in his passion: the Son of God was crucified to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21; cf. Luke 4:47; Acts 5:31; Rev 1:5). He shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). The people dwelling in darkness (Matt 27:45) have seen the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ in the cross-death of Jesus (Matt 27:50; 2 Cor 4:4). The conversion of the Gentiles in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 27:54; cf. 1:5; 2:1) is the fulfillment of Jesus’ earlier prophetic proclamation (Matt 4:15-16). Light shone in their darkness in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). When the darkness of death shrouded the heavens (Matt 27:45), a light dawned on a hill called Calvary.
4) The revelation of the Triune name.
According to Matthew 28:19, we are to baptize disciples into “the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”—the Triune name.
As he was given the name “Jesus,” signifying his real identity and the task that lay before him, so now, with his cross-work complete, we discover that “the name” which his followers are all to share is the new “name” of the living God—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Any reader of Matthew’s Gospel must recognize the uniqueness of this revelation in this Gospel. Three persons in the one divine being. Three coeternal and coequal persons related by processions and now revealed in missions.
Matthew is clear, the Great Commission of the church is to make known God as Trinity because we can’t baptize people into “the name” if they’ve never heard about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is what your Jewish and Muslim and Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness neighbors need to know—the true teaching about “the name”—the Triune name—the Triune God!
Those who follow Jesus and become true disciples are themselves to be caught up in this divine life as they are identified by their association with the divine name.
Where to begin? The natural question then becomes, “Where do I begin?”
My suggestion, especially for young preachers, is to rotate through each of the Gospel’s five discourses as five separate sermons series—Matthew 5-7 (the Sermon on the Mount), Matthew 10 (the Missiological Discourse), Matthew 13 (the Parabolic Discourse), Matthew 18 (the Ecclesiological Discourse), Matthew 23-25 (the Eschatological Discourse). For Matthew, these are to be the foundations of what the church must teach new disciples (Matt 28:20).
- T. France’s The Gospel of Matthew in the NICNT series is the best one stop shop for pastors preaching through Matthew’s Gospel.
- John Calvin’s Harmony of Matthew, Mark, and Luke is helpful because he preached through the Gospels as (…wait for it…) a pastor! His insight and practicality remind me that the task before me as a preacher is to bring the scripture to bear on the lives of my hearers, not to impress them with neat facts.
- Jerome’s Commentary on Matthew (Fathers of the Church Patristic Series) covers the entire text of the Gospel by means of brief explanatory comments. I suggest this because only reading commentaries post 1980 impoverishes our understanding of this Gospel.
- D. Davies and Dale C. Allison’s commentaries in the ICC series are detailed and worthwhile for those wading deeply into this Gospel.
- Charles L. Quarles Matthew in the EGGNT series is a readable guide for those working with the Greek text.
- Three books on Matthew Gospel I’ve been formed by are all written by Jonathan T. Pennington: Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, and The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary.
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I’m influenced by lectures from Jonathan Pennington here. For more, see his published works on the Gospels in Jonathan T. Pennington, Reading the Gospel’s Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012) and Jonathan T. Pennington, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing: A Theological Commentary (Ada, MI: Baker Academic, 2017).
John Calvin, Institutes 2.14.5.
N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 16-28 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Know Press, 2004), 2008.
Fred Sanders, The Triune God, NSD, ed. Michael Allen and Scott Swain (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 156-159.