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Matthew focuses on the Messiah (Christ) of Old Testament prophecy, proving and explaining Him. He quotes many Old Testament scriptures throughout his book. More than any of the other gospel writers, Matthew uses “kingdom of heaven” (32 times) rather than “kingdom of God” (5 times). The other gospel writers never use the term “kingdom of heaven.” Matthew also applies the term “son of David” to Jesus 10 times in his book, whereas Mark and Luke use the term 3 times each and John never does. This makes sense, when you realize Matthew is focusing on the Jews as his primary audience, while the others have a wider audience in mind.
The Five Sermons
Jesus preaches five major sermons recorded in Matthew’s gospel, each which ends with the marker, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings” and some transitionary language immediately following.
Matthew 5.1–8.1: The Sermon on the Mount begins with, “He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, his disciples came to Him.” It transitions to the next events with, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching…When He came down from the mountain…”
Matthew 10.5–11.1: The Sending of the Twelve begins with, “These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them…” It transitions to the next events with, “When Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
Matthew 13.1–53: Parables on the Kingdom of Heaven begins with, “Jesus went out of the house and sat by the sea.” It transitions to the next events with, “And when Jesus had finished these parables, He went away from there.”
Matthew 18.1–19.1: Lessons on Humility and Forgiveness begins with, “At that time the disciples came to Jesus.” It transitions to the next events with, “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, He went away from Galilee…”
Matthew 24.3–26.1: The Return of Christ begins with, “Jesus left the temple and was going away.” It transitions to the next events with, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, He said to His disciples…”
The Kingdom of Heaven
Matthew helps us understand the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. Next time you read through the gospel, keep your eyes open for “the kingdom of heaven” and related terms like “Our Father who is in heaven…”
Jesus talks about…
The timing of the kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” He preached. He taught His disciples to pray, “Your kingdom come” (6.10), and John the Baptist was not in the kingdom (11.11–12). Peter was to be given the keys to the kingdom (16.19), and their generation would see the kingdom (16.28).
The nature of the kingdom. “The kingdom of heaven is like…” He preached at least nine times in the gospel, six of which are in chapter 13’s sermon (13.24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47; 18.23; 20.1; 22.2). Those in the kingdom are poor in spirit (5.3) and persecuted (5.10). They have a high view of Scripture (5.19) and of righteousness (5.20). They don’t just preach, they practice (7.21). They are like little children (19.14), and the rich can only enter the kingdom with great difficulty (19.23). Jesus called it, “My Father’s kingdom” (26.29), and it would be open to the Gentiles (21.41–43).
As the Messiah (Christ), Jesus is marked as the King of prophecy who now sits on the throne of David as a forever king. He had a humble beginning, born to poor parents (13.55–57) and raised in an obscure village of Nazareth. As a travelling rabbi, Jesus was homeless (8.20) and spent His time with the dregs and fringes of society (11.4–6) and was gentle in spirit (11.28–30; 12.18–21). He continually frustrated the Jewish leadership, entered Jerusalem as a humble king riding on a donkey (21.1–11), and was finally crucified in a shameful and painful death—rejected by His own people.
But He taught with authority (7.28–29). There was not a physical problem He couldn’t fix (see chapters 8–9). He didn’t just argue with the Jewish leaders but often confounded and cornered them (12.1–14; 15.1–9; 21.23–27; 22.15–46).
After His resurrection (glory and praise to God!), Jesus said to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Amen!
Jesus is the son of David, heir to the eternal throne of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus is the Son of Man, God made flesh.
Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one, with all authority over all things.
In The Message—an interpretation, not a translation (so read with caution!)—the introduction to Galatians includes the following:
Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life.
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes under its entry for "Logos":
In relation to humanity, Jesus the Logos was not the impersonal principle of Stoicism, but He was a personal Savior who took on human flesh in the incarnation (John 1:4–14).
Most of the evangelical world employs this phrase. Perhaps "Are you a born again Christian?" (isn't that redundant?) is even more popular, but "Have you made Jesus your own personal Savior?" definitely competes.
Can we claim Jesus as our own "personal Savior"?
Personal is used here in the relational sense—that Jesus saves me personally; He and I share a personal relationship. The alternative to this personal relationship, I suppose, would be a relationship between Jesus and His body, the church, which does not somehow translate into a relationship between Him and me or Him and you, personally.
What does the Bible teach on this?
The Bible does not contain those exact words—"personal Savior"—but what about the concept? Consider two of the most God-fearing and God-loving men in the Bible, one who lived under the Old Covenant and one under the New: David and Paul.
David wrote of his relationship with God, even as his Savior, in the Psalms.
I love you, O LORD, my strength.
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Ps. 18.1-2)
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. (Ps. 3.4)
Do not forsake me, O Lord!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation! (Ps. 38.21-22)
Do you sense a personal relationship in David's words? Yahweh was not just the God of Israel; He was David's God! This relationship comforts and empowers because it does not depend upon the state of anyone else in the world—it's directly between a man and his God.
Paul also helps us understand the nature of our relationship with Jesus the Savior.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2.20)
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Phil. 3.12)
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Tim. 1.12-14)
Can you say Jesus is your personal Savior? Do you have a personal relationship with Him? I dearly hope you do! It is the single most important relationship any human being can have—and you either are His or you aren't.
What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Jesus said I am blessed if I am poor in spirit, and, in addition, I have (present tense) the kingdom of heaven, so it sounds important to be poor in spirit.
Jesus started His list of “blessed” statements (what we typically call the “Beatitudes”) with this one. Notice, by the way, the how many Ts are in “beatitude” and how many are in “attitude.” They are not related words. A beatitude is not an attitude we are supposed to be. “Beatitude” means “a supremely blessed state.” Jesus said I am supremely blessed if I am poor in spirit.
In fact, all citizens of Jesus’ kingdom must be poor in spirit, because if we are not poor in spirit, we do not have the kingdom of heaven!
The first and last of the eight beatitudes hold the same promise—“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”—so this short list defines citizens of Jesus’ kingdom. This is not some random list of proverbs; this is a definition of who is in the kingdom of heaven. Every Christ-follower is poor in spirit, mourns, is meek, hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is merciful, is pure in heart, is a peacemaker, and rejoices in persecution.
But return to the first one—what does it mean to be poor in spirit?
Poor means lacking, not having, being empty. But what do we lack? Jesus taught that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and He told the rich ruler to sell all he had, give to the poor, and go follow Jesus. Is that what this is talking about? Does Jesus demand all His followers sell everything they have and give to the poor?
A man can be worldly poor and still not be poor in spirit. These are not equal.
Poor in spirit is like humility. We realize our low place in reference to God and others. Yet it is more than simple humility. We stand before God spiritually destitute, having nothing to bring to Him. Like Adam and Eve, we have sinned and stand naked before God, without even the ability to properly cover ourselves.
Nothing in my hand I bring; Simply to the cross I cling;
Naked come to Thee for dress; Helpless look to Thee for grace;
Vile, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Savior, or I die.
(from “Rock of Ages” by Augustus M. Toplady)
Every citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven comes to Jesus with empty hands, on his knees, asking for Jesus’ blood to cover his sins. And after Jesus wondrously, graciously, lovingly applies the blood and forgives the sins, the kingdom citizen remains perpetually conscious of his never-ending need for grace and strength from the Lord. Never will he boast of anything before God except the work of Christ!
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for there is the kingdom of heaven.
“If science, like art, is to perform its mission truly and fully, its achievements must enter not only superficially but with their inner meaning into the consciousness of people.” – Einstein
Launching from that quote by Einstein, author Ann Druyan (wife of Carl Sagan) began gushing about the value and place of science to our current culture. Notice her use of worship language:
“When I discovered Einstein’s rarely quoted words, I found the credo for 40 years of my life’s work. This always has been and always will be the dream of Cosmos… We didn’t know that particular Einstein quote when Carl Sagan and I began writing the original Cosmos with astronomer Steve Soter. We just felt a kind of evangelical urgency to share the awesome power of science, to convey the spiritual uplift of the universe it reveals, and to amplify the alarms that Carl, Steve, and other scientists were sounding about our impact on the planet… Nothing less than a global spiritual awakening can transform us. Science, like love, is a means to that transcendence, to that soaring experience of the oneness of being fully alive… this lack of a final destination, an absolute truth, is what makes science such a worthy methodology for sacred searching. It is a never-ending lesson in humility. The vastness of the universe—and love, the thing that makes the vastness bearable—is out of reach to the arrogant. What’s real must matter more to us than what we wish to believe… The misuse of science endangers our civilization, but science also has redemptive powers. It can cleanse a planetary atmosphere overburdened with carbon dioxide. It can set life free to neutralize the toxins that we have scattered so carelessly. Its unrivaled powers of prophecy are demonstrated by our current predicament.” (Ann Druyan in the March 2020 issue of National Geographic, p. 19).
Humans must worship something, and Druyan clearly renders obeisance to science. By her own admission, she gets her credo (her faith statement) from Einstein, and she speaks “with evangelical urgency” of science’s “awesome power.” Does science itself have awesome power? Science is the study or pursuit of knowledge. It is a human endeavor to know more about reality around us. Science is not a thing. When she speaks of the awesome power of science, Druyan is really talking about the amazing discoveries scientists have made over the years. Really, she’s reveling in the awesome universe around her and the brainpower and effort humans have made to discover it.
How does love enter the picture, exactly? Science does not create love, nor can it discover it, since it is not a tangible thing to be studied. Love is something apart from the physical universe, although every thinking human knows it to be real.
Amazement, delight, and appreciation of beauty also do not exist in physical forms. These metaphysical phenomena are the stuff philosophers argue about. Scientists have no business with metaphysics, unless they believe there is more to life than the physical universe.
On the one hand, Druyan says there is no “final destination” and no “absolute truth,” and that fact makes understanding the vastness of the universe (and love!) only attainable to the humble; it “is out of reach to the arrogant.” Her definition of humility, however, is not the same as that of Solomon or James in scripture. The humble, in her vision, are those who would ditch what they believe and just accept what is “real.” But wait. I am confused. I thought she said there was no absolute truth. How can she then insist that something is real?
By the logic put forth here, Ann Druyan should realize she does not have all the answers, and she certainly does not have enough to say there is no god but science. She has decided to worship science above all other things, which ends up being self-worship and the worship of other brilliant men and women who are all trying to figure this universe out. But they have decided, as a matter of fact, there is no spiritual realm—that’s completely off the table.
We just cannot help but worship something, can we? We are created with a need to worship, to give ourselves to something greater than ourselves. Ann Druyan sees the vastness of the universe as something worthy of adoration, just as the ancient Egyptians worshiped the Sun and the Nile River. Is there any difference? Those ancient worshipers thought actual supernatural beings sustained them and judged them. Druyan and other materialists believe they are their own judges, their own final standards of moral authority.
Though materialists do not accept it, Yahweh created all things in heaven and on earth, which makes Him more powerful and vast than the vast universe. We don’t have to wonder where love, truth, beauty, or joy come from. Yahweh loves, He is truth, He created that which is beautiful and good, and He created joy and delight in the human heart. We are created, in fact, to find fullness in Him.
“We bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” (Acts 14. 15–17)
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17.30–31)
Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1.15–17)
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1.3)
Glory be to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) – the creator and sustainer of the universe.
We cannot help but worship!