Casting a Wide Net – Matthew 1

Casting a Wide NetDear blog-pals, you know by now that I really like my University of Wisconsin library card.  I had to return some books, which is of course an occasion to find some more. In exploring the Matthew section (BS 2575.3) I found some other commentaries.  I have found it worthwhile to read from scholars who are not from my own “school.”  In other words, I cast a wide enough net to catch fish from several schools.  We can fall into habitual reading where the eyes see but the mind glides across the surface.  Reading some other school authors can sometimes provide a surprise.

Matthew by Douglas R. A Hare in the Interpretation series by John Knox is one example. In talking about the birth narrative in Matthew 1:18-25, he was adamant that Matthew was not speaking philosophical theology, and that one should refrain from plunking your Nicene Credal thoughts into the text.

Well, says I, what are you up to?  But I continued until I found this on p. 12

“…In Hebrew, immanu means ‘with us’; El is a short form for the word for ‘God’.  Again, we must be careful not to read this through Nicene glasses.  In its Matthean context it focuses not on Jesus’ essence but on his function in the divine plan of salvation.  At no point in his Gospel does Matthew betray any interest in the philosophy of incarnation.  It remained for the Fourth Evangelist to ponder the metaphysical implications of the conviction that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and to articulate this deepest mystery of the Christina faith in his startling declaration: ‘and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ (John 1:14)”

Well, I disagree that Matthew is not that interested in issue of the essence of Jesus as human and divine (Nicene Creed).  I find a number of ways where Matthew highlights the divine nature of Jesus in his narrative.  See below where I have underlined them.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.


What interests me is the idea of Function.  Why and to what purpose was Jesus conceived of the Holy Spirit?  That is answered in v. 21 “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  I think it is probably true that Matthew’s main interest is the Function of Jesus to be the Savior.  He is an evangelist, not a philosopher.

Thus my sermon was born around the two ideas:

  • Who Jesus is – human and divine, son of Mary (not Joseph) and the Holy Spirit.
  • What Jesus does – saves from sin – the confusion, the guilt and the power of it.


First Fruits Quote

Have you, dear reader, ever thought about the festival of the First Fruits? It’s connection to Jesus?

“Christ the sacrifice of first fruits represents a new season of not mere survival, but thriving.  His sacrifice means Christians no longer live from the old harvest, from the fruits of the old humanity, but from a new way of being, from the risen Christ….its benefits include not just a new life in the End, but a new way of life here and now, namely life in the Spirit that is continually dedicated to God the Father…And in this new way of life, Christians may also serve as a kind of “first fruits” for others, indicating the future that God intends for the whole of Creation.”

(Robert Sherman, King, Priest and Prophet, T&T Clark, 2004 p. 179)

It is busy in the Closet!

“The whole Trinity is present in the Christian’s [prayer] closet. The father hears.  The Son advocates his case at the Father’s right hand; The Holy Spirit intercedes in the heart of the believer.”   A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, II p. 775

Matthew 5:6 “But when you pray, go into your room [closet], close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Romans 8:26  “In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

Romans 8:34 “…Christ Jesus, who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”

Hebrews 7: 25 “Therefor he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them”

It would seem the Holy Spirit is present to help us to pray.  Christ is before the Father as our advocate, praying for us in his role of High Priest.

Ruminations on Sin in the 21st Century

Guilt creates the need for a payment or a punishment.  Here are two examples.

  • A person accidentally backs up over his neighbor’s fence.
  • A mugger beats his victim so he has to go to the hospital.

In the case of the fence, we say that the driver should pay the neighbor to get the fence repaired.  It was accidental, but his action make him responsible.  He owes a debt.  Sin is also like that.  It is an action that creates a debt.  The neighbor would not care who pays for the fence, as long as he is paid.  Maybe the driver’s insurance will take care of it.

In the second case, the mugger does not only need to pay back the money he took. The victim would still want to see the mugger brought to justice.  His crime was so serious that paying money is not enough.  He should go to jail.

We are guilty of both accidents and crimes.  Every one of us has hurt another person is some way.  Children can be cruel to children.  Co-workers gossip about each other.   Employees do not work as hard as they should.   If we kept a list, it would be long.   These actions create a debt.   We owe to justice a punishment that only we should pay.

The payment should fit the crime.  If a poor woman steals a loaf of bread to feed her family, should she go to jail?  No, she should get help – we have programs to help people get food.  Yet, it would be right for her to go, when she has some money, and pay the baker and apologize.

What if someone commits murder and they are given a 30 day prison sentence.  Is that right?  They took a person’s life and all they got was 30 days?  No, the punishment has to fit the crime.

Who needs a priest?

Why would we need a priest (we will call that person a spiritual expert) to make a connection with God?

We need experts in our daily lives.

  • If your car does not work, do you try to fix it yourself?  Maybe if you are out of gas, or you need to put air in your tires.  But will you replace your brakes or fix your transmission?  No, you go to a mechanic who knows what to do.
  • If you need surgery, will you do that for yourself?  Let’s say that you know that you have to replace your knee joint.  Can you replace it yourself?  No.
  • Can you teach yourself another language?  Maybe you will learn by listening and learning all by yourself.  Most of us need a teacher.  I am learning Spanish.  My teacher’s name is Anna Maria.  He moved to the United states from Peru.  She knows Spanish because that is her 1st language.  She knows English because she learned it here, and is not a citizen.  Because she lives in both worlds, she can teach me Spanish.

If you then need a mechanic for your car, a doctor for your body and a teacher for your education – you also need a priest if you want to know God. What is more difficult to know and understand, an engine, a knee, a language or the Almighty?

Brevity is next to Godliness

I found this today – it is “old” in on sense, from 1839, but it was pretty fresh to me:

“Why, then, is Jesus, the Son of God, called The Anointed?

Because to his manhood were imparted without measure all the gifts of the Holy Ghost; and so he possesses in the highest degree the knowledge of a prophet; the holiness of a high priest; and the power of a king.”

Longer Catechism, Orthodox Catholic Eastern Church, 1839, quoted in Basic Christian Doctrines, Ed. Carl F. H. Henry; Holt, Rinehart and Winston; NY, 1962