Ready or not here, He comes! The account of Jesus. And nothing has been the same since. The first four narratives, the Gospels per Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of the New Testament, are biographical profiles on Jesus, each written from the author’s accounts and perspective of first-century believers (remember all the N.T. authors come from Jewish backgrounds to include Jesus so much circular references between the shared Testaments are used) whose life had been made new by the His life, death, burial, and resurrection.
It’s interesting to note that the Christian message (Romans 10:13) is not unambiguous to the Jews. Dig a little deeper and find in the Jewish Apocrypha (that not part of canon not part of the Hebrew Bible but written roughly around the same time), describes the anointed one, the Messiah (i.e. servant, shepherd, judge, king, son of man, etc). Israel was told its story, not beginning with itself, but within the context of the entire human race in the first ten chapters of Genesis before God’s ancestral line up to through Abraham in Genesis 12. But the Jews, like Christian believers today, are mostly oblivious of that today nor do they go looking for answers.
Jesus Christ is a compound name of the savior of the world. Jesus is the son of man, with the name similar to the meaning of Josuha ( Jehovah saves) and Christ is Greek for the anointed one.
About one-third of Matthew and Mark, one-fourth of Luke and one-half of John Focus on the last hours of Jesus. The first three Gospels are called synoptic, offering a comparison with each other. All the Gospels have a literary relation to one another. John is written more different than the first three Gospels. Some argue the Gospels contradict each other, but taking into account of the personalities of the writers, their styles and who their audience is, the harmony comes forth. Over half the words in all the Gospels are the words of Christ.
Matthew writes to show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Technically the author (Matthew a.k.a Levi) gives his eyewitness account written specifically with the Jewish audience in mind. His theme is to show the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. Technically the author is not mentioned except the reference to Levi the tax collector whom Jesus later renames Matthew. The name means a gift of the Lord. Matthew was not favored by many at the time because he was a Jew who worked as a Roman tax collector.
There is much debate (to get it right) about when the Gospels were written and for that matter the New Testament. Except for the books by John, it is assumed the New Testament was written before AD 70 when the temple was destroyed in Jerusalem. Scholarly scrutiny for scripture to be part of the canon of the New Testament include whether the writers had a direct association or eyewitness accounts with Jesus, it produced during His era, how widely used (at first orally) it was in the early church and if it conforms to the rules of faith. It is suggested the book of Matthew was written after the book of Mark. My guess is Matthew was placed first in this second part of the Bible to bridge the two eras together (O.T. and N.T), to show Jesus came as the fulfillment for the Jewish saving Messiah. It has been four hundred years of silence since the book of Malachi, a time known as the intertestamental or second temple period.
Early philosopher (AD 328) and theologian St. Augustine is attributed as saying, “In the Old Testament, the New is concealed, in the New, the Old is revealed.”
Jesus’s story is the hope of the universe which rests on his shoulders, a first-century Middle Eastern man, conceived by a teenage virgin, born in an obscure town, who hung out with the nonreligious and for the most part, was unimpressive to others until He spoke. Jesus’s adult life is spent with no predictable place to lay His head, and He died by crucifixion between two thugs on top of a trash heap. Basically, He would be what we call homeless. These details about Jesus’ life don’t exactly scream “the hope of the universe” or “savior of the world” when He started out his three-year ministry at thirty years old. In Matthew 24:21-29, Jesus predicts His second coming after his resurrection.
Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, commonly known as the Beatitudes, is recorded in chapters 5 through 7. It is spoken not only to the original twelve disciples but to others who came to hear Jesus speak. The meaning of blessed, a word He used often, is blurred today because it’s definition is used differently in this era. It is now used in such a way that it is disguised as if bragging versus used humbly (a topic to be taken up in a later chapter)as intended. The Sermon on the Mount is not about how to get into the kingdom of God (heaven ) but how we already have a step in the kingdom here in this life on earth when joining in on the mission of Christ. The sermon is a description of a Jesus like character with each beatitude or blessing presented in a progressive order of steps with the first: poverty of spirit.
Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, retells a story from a rabbi about the first Adam (in Genesis) being more focused on what his resume says about him versus another, a second Adam (in the Gospels), focused more on his eulogy. It made me think of this conversation pattern that developed with a friend. When sharing a story about someone, he made sure he sandwiched in that person’s accomplishments (found in a resume) as part of the discussion. I guess it was said so I could fully appreciate the importance or significance of that person by his credentials. I also think, the teller, was trying to impress his listeners with whose important shoulders he was rubbing up against.
The definition of disciples is comparable to being an apprentice. Apprentices however usually chose their master or teacher, not the other way around as was the case with Jesus who chose them. A fictitious mock evaluation committee was once circulated that makes the point on the differences of value versus what God sees. This search committee came up with this report:
- Peter is declared emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.
- Andrew has no qualities of leadership.
- The two brothers, James and John, sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.
- Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.
- Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau blacklists Matthew.
- James and Thaddeus ( a.k.a. Jude) have radical learnings and register high scores on the manic-depressive scale.
- One disciple, however, shows to be highly motivated and ambitious and innovative, has the ability, is resourceful, networks with people in high places and is business minded: Judas.
Comparing a resume to a eulogy, the Beatitudes tell me Jesus wasn’t interested if I stood with the great but instead if I sat with the broken. St. Mother Teresa sat with the broken in India. Then what better way to shine a light on her ministry than when she sat with world dignitaries and celebrities who held public esteem, titles, influence, and prominence who helped gain exposure from it. Bill Bennot, church planner, said how we walk with the broken speaks louder that how we sit with the great.
John the Baptist was the last of his kind as a prophet, echoing the Old Testament warnings. When the time came, he was hesitant to baptize Jesus knowing Jesus’s divine identity and authority. Jesus didn’t need the rebirth through the cleansing of baptism. When John reminded him of this, he was told by Jesus that it must be done to fulfill scripture. After the baptism, God said, with a symbolic dove similar to the one for new creation on Noah’s ark, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17).
God had said He was “well pleased” before Jesus’ ministry had yet to begin. He had not yet healed anyone, preached any sermons of note, did little accomplishment to be recorded in the Scriptures (notwithstanding his miraculous birth ). But still, God, the Father, expresses his approval. It showed how the father God’s love and approval are not based on orthopraxy (correct ethical and liturgical practice as opposed to His grace).
The longest Jewish genealogy of Jesus, beginning with Abraham is in Matthew (Luke’s genealogy does too but his begins with Adam showing God’s message is for all of humanity related before Genesis 12). This genealogy is an indicator he was writing to a Jewish audience showing the realization of the line coming from Abraham. Jesus’s family tree includes women (seldom mentioned in biblical genealogies): Judah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. They have been mentioned previously, their more redeeming parts, only alluding to their discretions. Their backstory includes sex with a father in law who thought she was a prostitute; a Gentile who bore two sons out of incest, a Canaanite prostitute, and a Moabite lineage that began with from the incest between Lot and his daughter. Jesus was not ashamed of His family tree nor did He hide it.
I have struggled with an underlying burden of shame and guilt, sometimes irrational guilt, of unworthiness. Somewhere along the way, my guilt morphed into the most defining aspects of shame. My shame came from the actions of my birth family, the things they did and still do today to themselves and other members, and even the neglect of preserving the reputation of our family name has been particularly burdensome for me. I have a sense of shame of not having the kind of birth family that grows together, one that takes care of each other, shows love and support to and for each other. There is no perfect family. But I do admire the ones that stick together regardless instead of going their separate ways in adult life. I feel the shame of my situation of being a divorced grandparent, I had hoped to represent something different for my grandchildren.
I can almost pinpoint the exact moment shame raised its ugly head in my life. It was when I received my first-grade report card. I had just begun school, so my “first grades” were averaged out and was reflected in one grade which the teacher explained to parents. I received the grade of C (for average). My dad was disappointed and, quietly and calmly, while sitting on his lap, he let me know.
It was an impetus for me to eventually be the first female in my immediate family to get an undergraduate and master’s degree, the latter of which broke a glass ceiling for my girls. Now my one of my children has outpaced me in their academic accomplishments and feats. Sadly, my experience of not measuring up to dad’s expectations since that day sitting on his lap is firmly fid in my memory. For years, I sought to overcome the stigma of being average. While Growing up it lead me to try and excel in school, to be the good girl, to win approval or any acknowledgment for accomplishments from others to fill my perceived disappointment f not measuring up. This behavior followed me into my married and professional life.
Finally, I recognized what I was doing to myself and began to stop basing my success on other’s approval. Shame for what it is, a feeling of worthlessness, after rejection, of being cast out. Guilt is concerned with doing something wrong whereas the definition of shame is believing that somehow you are bad by association. It carries with it the sense that there is nothing to be done to purge its burdensome and toxic presence. This shame usually raises its head when my relationships do not work out because the other decides I am not the “one” hence leaves. I would spiral downward with other abandonment issues. There is also the confusion between shame and guilt in my thinking of it. My self-incriminations at times, still haunt me, but as I grow older, I am learning to discipline those thoughts by differentiating between the wheat (guilt) from the chaff (shame). If the first beatitude is about the poverty of spirit, I wonder if that doesn’t define shame?
The Beatitudes (only listed in the book of Matthew in its entirety) are a study in the paradox or mystery of Jesus’s teachings. It depicts the epitome of an attitude of service and humility. Pastor Kyle Idleman says that, in the first Beatitude, “Jesus says there is a blessing that comes when you reach the end of yourself. That’s what it means to be poor in spirit. You reach a place where you are broken, and you do not have what it takes.”
Because of my previous flawed thinking, I thought my achievements were supposed to pave the way for approval. Later, I became very sensitized in identifying my kids thinking the same thing to get parental attention. I conveyed to them they were important and worthy because of who they were and not by their performance to win affection or gain attention. My parental love came regardless of their outcomes. There were some mixed messages sent out to them but hopefully, the love and acceptance overrule it and carries the day. To bestow love or acceptance on someone’s success is an act of conditional love.