TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 5-6
“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying…” – Matthew 5:1-2
In yesterday’s post, I wrote that Matthew is the gospel of the king. A king defines the laws of a kingdom. He does so by making promulgations, declaring proclamations, and passing edicts. If you have a Bible where Jesus’ words are in red, then you will immediately see that the gospel of Matthew records long sayings, teachings, or discourses of Jesus. These are the proclamations of King Jesus and a defining feature of the gospel of Matthew.
Today’s reading starts the first of five proclamations by Jesus in Matthew. The first proclamation is commonly known as the sermon on the mount. Essentially is the law of Jesus’ kingdom. Matthew’s introduction to this first proclamation is meant to contrast it with the giving of the law to Israel by Moses.
Both Moses’ giving of the law and Jesus’ proclamation take place at a mountain. However, Moses went up the mountain alone. And, when God supposedly showed up on the mountain with thunder and lightning and smoke, Israel was afraid. In Exodus 20:19, Israel says to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen, but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” The people did not want to hear God’s voice directly. Therefore, Moses wrote down the law on tablets of stone. Yet, God always wanted a people who would hear his voice.
But, notice how the situation is different with Jesus. Jesus went up on the mountain and sat down. No thunder. No lightning. No smoke. In fact, by sitting down, Jesus took a position of submission and humility. For, typically a teacher would stand while his disciples sat at his feet. And, instead of being on the mountain alone, Jesus’ disciples came up the mountain with him. They were not afraid to hear from God directly. So, Jesus opened his mouth. The disciples heard his voice. They were hearing God directly instead of going by what was written.
Moses’ law featured 10 commandments. The number 10 typically symbolizes orderly perfection. While God desires orderly perfection, one can have the outward appearance of orderly perfection while the internal reality is entirely disordered. So, Moses law was an external reality just as it was written externally on tablets of stone. Moses’ 10 commandments feature the words no and not. The only command that does not feature the word not is the command to honor your father and mother.
However, Jesus’ proclamation of his “law” features nine beatitudes or states of being and the rewards that go with them. In many cases the number nine symbolizes the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5:22-23, there are nine aspects to the fruit of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, there are nine gifts of the Spirit mentioned. The Spirit is an internal truth. The Spirit speaks to the inner man. He writes on the internal tablets of our hearts instead of the external tablets of stone. Instead of focusing on the external order of things like Moses, Jesus focuses on the internal condition of our hearts. And, instead of featuring the words no and not, Jesus focuses on what we should be and do.
So, everything about Matthew’s account of this proclamation by Jesus is set up to contrast with Moses’ giving of the law. This is why Jesus repeatedly says, “You have heard that it was said…But I say to you.” Jesus is saying, “You heard one thing from Moses, but I am telling you the real truth.”
It’s interesting that Matthew organizes his gospel around five proclamations by Jesus. Five is the number of grace. John 1:17 says, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Matthew marks the beginning and ending of these five proclamations with similar statements. And, perhaps Matthew intended the content of these five proclamations, these five spoken words of Jesus, to compare and contrast with the content of Moses’ five written books.
Proclamation number one starts with “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them saying…” (Matthew 5:1-2) It ends with Matthew 7:28-29, which says, “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
Notice how Matthew directly compares what Jesus spoke to what the scribes had written. This first proclamation is Jesus’ initiation or beginning of his kingdom. Perhaps Matthew intended it to be thought of as Jesus’s Genesis.
The second proclamation starts “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction…These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them…” (Matthew 10:1, 5) It ends with Matthews 11:1, which says, “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”
This proclamation by Jesus lines up with Exodus. In Exodus, God gathers the 12 tribes in Egypt to himself and delivers them from their oppression. The 12 tribes were then supposed to be a light to the Gentiles to deliver them from their oppression and gather them to God. That’s basically the content of Jesus’ second proclamation.
The start of the third proclamation is “That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many in parables, saying…” (Matthew 13:1-3) It ends with Matthew 13:53, which says, “And when Jesus finished these parables, he went away from there.”
I think this third proclamation relates to Leviticus. When I think of Leviticus, I think of a book that says who is in the congregation and, even more so, who is excluded from the congregation. I think this relates to Jesus’ third proclamation because all of the parables are about the kingdom. While Leviticus seems to be about the select few who are in the congregation, Jesus’ third proclamation is addressed to great crowds. Jesus addressed them from the sea, and the sea typically signifies God’s enemy and/or the great mass of people on the earth. Given how astonished the crowds were at the parables and how they wondered where Jesus got this wisdom, my guess is the kingdom doesn’t work quite the way Leviticus reads on its surface.
The fourth proclamation starts “At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said…” (Matthew 18:1-3) It ends with Matthew 19:1, which says, “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.”
In this proclamation, Jesus speaks of entering the kingdom like a little child, the temptation to sin, the lost sheep, and forgiveness. All of the content speaks to Israel’s wilderness experience in the book of Numbers.
The fifth proclamation starts “Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples…” (Matthew 23:1). It ends with Matthew 26:1-2, which says, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.'”
I think this fifth proclamation is meant to line up with Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy ends with blessings and curses. It ends with the choice of life or death. It ends with Moses, the law, dying, and Joshua, the savior, leading the people into the promised land.
Jesus becomes the curse for us so that we can be blessed. Jesus chooses death so that we can live. Jesus fulfills the law, bringing it to an end, so that we can have a savior that delivers us from sin, death, and Satan and leads us into the promised land of eternal life.
This is just a quick, cursory look at the five proclamations of King Jesus. But, I’m sure a deeper study of what has been highlighted would reveal even more insight into Matthew’s gospel of the king.