First Epiphany Sunday

Mathew’s proclamation about Jesus

Mathew 3: 13-17

This year, many of our Gospel readings will be from Matthew’s Gospel account. Therefore, I thought it is worth highlight a few points to look out for when reading through Matthew.darren2

  Matthew was originally writing for a Jewish audience. For example, Matthew quotes more Jewish or Old Testament scriptures than any other New Testament writer. He assumes his audience will be familiar with these scriptures.

Also, the Jews had such great respect for God’s name that they never said it. Therefore Matthew avoids using the word ‘God’. So where other New Testament writers use the term, ‘Kingdom of God’, Matthew uses the term, ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ – which he does 31 times.

Also, where other writers explain the significance of certain practices and customs of Jewish life, Matthew assumes his audience will know this, and doesn’t always point them out. That’s why, when someone unfamiliar with the bible wants to read about Jesus, Luke’s Gospel account is often a better place to start, unless they happen to be familiar with Jewish practices.

      When studying Matthew’s gospel, at least three main themes stand out.

  1. The Kingdom of Heaven is real and amongst us now.
  2. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us.
  3. Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.

So today, I want to give you a brief overview of these three themes.

Firstly,  the Kingdom of Heaven is already here. Jesus does lots of teaching about the kingdom of Heaven. Matthew records these in 5 long discourses, starting with the Sermon on the Mount in chapters five to seven. These are interspersed with numerous miracles to show that the kingdom of heaven is not some distant reality. It is here and now. Jesus and his kingdom is amongst us today.

The same is true today. Amongst all the havoc of the fires over the last few months are many miracle stories. This week I read one published by the Eternity magazine on Tuesday. 

David Jeffrey owns a B&B at Mallacoota in far East Gippsland. He was one of hundreds, if not thousands of people spending the early hours of New Years’ Day on the Mallacoota wharf. He was initially planning to stay and defend his home. That was until he heard reports of fireballs coming.

David says, “That day the town experienced a miraculous answer to prayer. There is no way that it was all just luck.” Previously an atheist, David has now been a Christian for 25 years.

  The approaching firewall was reported to be 60 feet high and moving at 90 kilometres an hour. David says, “We could hear the roar. It sounded like a thousand freight trains coming at us. Then a huge gust, like someone had opened the door of a furnace, pushed us … It went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.”

At this point David and many others thought “we were going to die.”

“I prayed, ‘Lord if you don’t push this [fire] back now, we need [wind] from the east.’ As soon as I said that, it started blowing from the east a little bit. Then I got louder and [the wind] got stronger. Then I got louder again and it got stronger again

“I felt it change. I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger [the wind got]. I was yelling, ‘In Jesus’ name, thank you Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!’

“I did not care who heard me. I knew then that God was then doing what I was asking. Because if he didn’t answer then, we were dead.”

No easterly wind was forecast. Yet David says, “What God did was push [the fire] back from the east, which was impossible but he did it. He did that for five minutes, which broke [the fire front] enough to stop it from getting to where we were.”

Afterwards, as the smoke started to clear, the crowd at the wharf listened in horror as properties were consumed by fire and gas cylinders exploded.

David says, “The fire wall was getting closer and closer to my house. We were about to lose everything.” Yet he says he was more concerned about his neighbours, who had remained to defend their home, rather than his own property.

“Then I heard God say to me, ‘pray’. I started off with a pathetic little prayer … Then within me, this faith rose up and said ‘who are you praying to?’ And I thought, ‘Yes! You’re the God of the Bible. Nothing’s impossible with you!

“This was so impossible, but somehow God turned off the flames, like flicking off a switch. All the fuel was still there – the houses were still there, the grass was there.

“My neighbours – who are not Christians – were eyewitnesses and they tell me ‘God saved us’. They thought they were going to be annihilated because that fireball was coming straight at them.  But the whole of Vista Drive [their street] got spared and the bush around us got spared. Hot embers went into the dry, long grass, big bits of bark and trees, but where we were praying for, right there, it was all spared …

“There were no burn marks. There is honestly not a blade of grass singed.”

Previously, David has been talking with his neighbour, Chris, about his faith. “Chris and I have been talking about little things to do with Jesus for the past couple of years, but now we’re talking big things.” Since the fire, David has been “explaining [to Chris] what it means to be a disciple of Christ”.

Referring to other neighbours, David says, “They all feel like the prayers saved them … They’ve seen miracles. They’ve seen the supernatural – flames getting pushed back, they’ve seen the embers hit the grass and not burn, without even a singe mark.

“That’s literally Bible stuff – Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego [who were spared from the ‘fiery furnace’ in the biblical book of Daniel … We are in awe of what God’s doing.”

He is hopeful this situation will “help people realise that there is a God and he does love them, that the only safe place is behind that cross.”

But the miracle doesn’t stop there. David has been able to use his B&B property to feed and house police and other emergency services personnel. “Not only did this building not burn to the ground, but now it’s getting used in unbelievable circumstances,” he says. “This building [provides] an opportunity now for love to flow – that’s what I see it as.”

David is determined to ensure that all the glory goes to God. “It’s time for people to rise up and pray. It’s time to get serious about God and get back into reading his word.”

   The kingdom of heaven is real. It is here and now. What’s more it’s not a kingdom of judgement but of love and relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are a community of true love. They invite us into that community of love. More importantly, you don’t have to do anything to earn their love for you.

Imagine an infant lying on the lounge room floor. It can’t do anything except smile, laugh and cry. Yet their parent or grandparent has incredible love for this child. This child can’t do anything to earn that love. The same is true with our heavenly Father. Your Father in Heaven loves you as you are, no matter what. You don’t have to do anything to earn that love.

In today’s Gospel reading, we heard that, at Jesus’ baptism,

a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17, nlt)

At this point Jesus hadn’t actually healed anyone yet. He hadn’t performed any miracles, such as calming a storm, or turning water to wine. We don’t have any of his great teachings. Jesus hadn’t yet died on the cross. Jesus didn’t have to earn the Father’s love. The Father loved him for who he was.

Likewise, You and I also don’t have to try and be good enough to earn the Father’s love. He loves you just as you are. Yet he loves us too much to just leave us that way. He wants to transform our lives through the power of the cross and the freedom that this brings. This is the miracle God wants to perform in your life, here and now. Eternal Life in Jesus is not just for after we die. We have new life in him today.

So that’s the first main theme in Matthew’s Gospel: that the Kingdom of heaven is here and now.

   Last week I actually covered the second theme – that Jesus is Immanuel, meaning ‘God with us’. So I will only cover this very briefly today.

Using a quote from Isaiah 7, the very first chapter of Matthew tells us that Jesus is God with us. When we turn to the last chapter, in fact the very last verse of Matthew, we read

And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20, niv)

During my quiet time on Ascension last year, I compared the different accounts in the Gospels and Acts. The thing I learned, is that Matthew doesn’t mention the ascension at all. He wants us to know that Jesus isn’t just up in heaven. He is also still here on earth with us. He is particularly present for us through his word and in the sacraments.

And finally, Matthew goes to great lengths to point out that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah. This is also true of all the New Testament writers.

As I said at the start, Matthew includes more quotes from Old Testament or Jewish Scriptures than any other New Testament writer. Many of these are in reference to the way Jesus fulfilled the scriptures about the Messiah.

For example, the Messiah would be a descendent of Abraham, and King David. So Matthew starts his gospel with a long genealogy showing Jesus is a descendent of Abraham and David and the other Jewish kings. Now this section often seems long and tedious for us westerners, but for Jews it is critical. There are also some really interesting comments I could make on this, but I don’t have time for today.

What’s also interesting is, if you skip over most of the family line, you are left with the following verses, 

1 This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

… and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about … (Matthew 1:1, 16b-18a, niv)

As you can see, in his opening paragraphs, Matthew tells us four times that Jesus is the Messiah. I wonder if there’s something Matthew wants his audience to know from the outset?

The rest of the book gives examples of three groups of people. There are those who declare Jesus is the Messiah, some who aren’t so sure, and others who say he is not the Messiah – he is just a very naughty boy and he deserves to die. Some even change their mind. For example, in today’s reading, just after Jesus’ baptism, John the Baptist was one who witnessed the Father declaring Jesus was his beloved son.    But then in chapter 11 we read that John was sitting in prison and he starts to have doubts. If Jesus is the Messiah, come to set the world right, then why is he in prison for speaking God’s word’s to the king?

[John] sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2b-3, niv)

  What’s more, a pivotal moment about half way through Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospel accounts is when Peter declares

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, niv)

After this, these accounts all focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Matthew makes it clear that we are also challenged with the same question. Is Jesus the Messiah or not?

More importantly, what does it mean for Jesus to be the Messiah. 

   Like Peter, as disciples of Jesus, Matthew wants us to declare with our words and our lives, that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus and his kingdom are not some distant reality. They are here amongst us, alive and well, and can bring transformation to our life today.

Jesus died and rose again to save you and me from the consequence of our sin. He came to overcome death and evil in our lives and give us new life, here, today. May we live the new life Jesus has won for you and me.

Darren Kupke