Having finished Matthew, it’s time to do something I should have done as soon as I finished Luke: start reading Acts. The second of Luke’s two books in the Bible, Acts picks up where Luke’s gospel left off, detailing the development of the early church. And by the time it occurred to me to go from Luke to Acts, I was already in the middle of Matthew. Hindsight is 20/20, better late than never, and other overused adages. It’s Acts time.
When I said yesterday that Judas’ remorse is just one of the things we’ll find in today’s chapter, I wasn’t kidding. Matthew 27 is full of events: Jesus appearing before Pilate, the crowds demanding the release of the criminal Barabbas, the Roman soldiers flogging and mocking Jesus, the procession to Golgotha, the crucifixion, an earthquake at the moment of Jesus’ death that splits the veil of the temple and opens several tombs (out of which after Jesus’ resurrection come several saints’ bodies, which is weird), and Joseph of Arimathea providing a tomb for Jesus’ own body, which Pilate secures with a guard of Roman soldiers. See? Lots of events. But in particular, the chief priests and scribes quote Psalm 22 to mock Jesus on the cross, and from the cross, Jesus responds with another verse from Psalm 22. I’m curious what’s going on there, so let’s check it out.
Having bested his opponents among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish religious leaders in a series of dialectical sparring matches, Jesus spends an entire chapter dunking on them. Matthew 23 is one big vitriolic criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, a warning from Jesus to his disciples and the multitudes not to fall into their traps.
We’ve seen the sorts of parables Jesus tells to the general populace and to his disciples. But what sorts of parables does he tell to the Pharisees? Apparently, he tells parables about people who disrespect the servants of those in power and who, as a result, face the master’s wrath when he learns of their misdeeds.
If you’ve ever wondered what the kingdom of heaven is like, you came to the right chapter. Matthew 13 is over 90% parables by verse, each one a simile comparing the kingdom of heaven to something else. So what is the kingdom of heaven like? It’s like a sower sowing seed, a man whose enemy sows weeds in his wheat field, a mustard seed, leaven, a treasure hidden in a field, a merchant seeking fine pearls, and a dragnet. Need an explanation? If so, you’re in good company, because the disciples ask for one as well.
The first two chapters of the Sermon on the Mount are easy enough to summarize. Matthew 5 deals with good and evil, suffering, and forgiveness; Matthew 6 concerns preoccupation with wealth. But how would I sum up chapter 7? I’m tempted to call it “a grab-bag of Jesus’ clever metaphors, sayings, and one-liners.” If there’s a single thread running through them, it’s beyond me to find it. But I can always hand-pick a few verses throughout that got my attention. That’s what we’ve got today, folks.
Around the time we started Luke, in celebration of the Christmas season, we also read through the nativity narrative in Matthew. Now we’re coming back to Matthew to finish what we started, and the third chapter here is basically everything Matthew has to say about John the Baptist’s ministry. We won’t see John the Baptist again until chapter 11, where we find him in prison, and again in chapter 14 for the events leading up to his execution at Herod’s hands. But today it’s the John’s Ministry Chapter, all the time JTB.