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Introduction to the Gospel of Matthew

by John MacArthur

At the time when Christ was born, Israel was as you well know under Roman domination, and there were many things about the Roman domination that were oppressive to Israel. One aspect of the oppression of Rome was the crushing taxation system. It was a cruel system, it was relentless, and it was very systematic. Rome had exacted very firm taxation from its conquered nations. Two particular taxes were taken, one was the poll tax, which basically would be comparable today to our income tax, the other what was called the ground tax, which would be kind of like a property or land tax. And it was interesting the way this worked, the ah, Roman senators, who were very wealthy in the city of Rome, along with very wealthy and predominate magistrates in Roman society, would have the opportunity to buy at public auction, the revenues of a certain country at a fixed price and then hold those revenues for five years, in other words some sort of coalition of Roman wealthy senators would buy the right from the Roman government to draw the taxes from the nation Israel for a period of five years.

So it was up to them to get as much as they could possibly get. They Were called the publicani, and they would hire slaves and countrymen in the nation from which they had received the permission to exact the taxes, they would hire these people to do the actual tax gathering.

So that what you have then is these individual people working to gather taxes to give to wealthy senators who have purchased from the Roman government the right to all of the money they could exact from those people. Now these people as I said, in the wealthy spots were called the publicani, and the other folks who did the tax gathering are what we know in the New Testament as publicans. Publicans or tax...not republicans, publicans or tax gatherers. And of course the people in the country would look at them as traitors, because here they were gathering taxes from their own countrymen to give to people of a foreign nation, and so they were thought of as traitors who were gouging for the wealthy Roman capitalists, and overtaxing for their own gain. And what you had was you had ah, ah, ah gouging by the Romans who owned the rights and then you had a further gouging by the tax gatherer himself to pad his own pocket, such as in the classic example of the man named Zacchaeus, who had done this. Now tax gatherers or publicans, as the New Testament calls them were ranked with harlots, they were ranked with the heathen, they were ranked with highwaymen, robbers and murderers, so they didn't run in very good company. To make things worse, around the year 33 A.D. there was a great financial crisis in Rome, and because of that great financial crisis Rome exacted even worse taxes from its chattel nations, which created an even more intense problem in Israel at the time. Now one of these publicans who worked for some wealthy coalition of Roman senators who had bought the right to tax Israel was a man by the name of Matthew Levi, Matthew or Levi. If you'll look with me for a moment at chapter 9 of Matthew and verse 9, I'll introduce you to him in terms of his chronology in the history of the life of Jesus.

Matthew 9'9, "And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man, named Matthew, sitting at the tax office: and he saith unto him, Follow me.

And he arose, and followed him." Now here's the first time that we meet Matthew, the tax collector. Now it's an amazing thing in the first place that Jesus would have anything to do with such a man, a man who was known in his society at least by ah, the general designation of his particular job as a gouging criminal. And yet Jesus said to him, follow me, and he arose and followed, right getting up from his table where he was collecting his taxes. Uhm, some have said, and I'm sure it's true that only Jesus Christ could work such a transformation of turning a publican into an apostle, and such was the miracle of Matthew who became then the writer of the first Gospel record. There's only one Gospel, frankly, only one Gospel just four different writers recording it. Only one Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ is a singular message. But there are four Gospel's that we call Gospel's historically though they are just four writers writing of one Gospel. And what's interesting to me is that we really don't want to be unfair and you don't want to necessarily condemn the man because he had a rotten profession, you can always find ah, a good man in a bad business from time to time, and maybe that was the case with Matthew. At least Jesus saw in him something that was useful, and when Jesus spoke to him he immediately followed, which leads us to believe that he was perhaps very familiar with Jesus.

Now perhaps on some other occasion had heard or seen Jesus, he may have been a religious man, he may have been a rarer honest man, there doesn't seem to be any necessity for him to exact retribution to people in the way that Zacchaeus had to do, so perhaps he had been very, very fair, he doesn't apparently sense any need to go out and pay back everything he's taken wrongfully. Jesus drew this man into an amazing inner circle of twelve people. In fact there were twelve people in the history of the world, and I think it's important to remember this, there were twelve people in the history of the world who had the kind of relationship with God, that Matthew and the other eleven apostles had, and only twelve.

A marvelous, incredible, unique relationship in which they walked with the very God of the universe in human flesh for a period of three years.

So God, in Christ called this man into the inner circle. And he must have been a man worth calling. I think too the fact that he moved instantly is indicative of where his heart was. Now the man had a lot of wealth, no doubt and a lot of power, and he was willing to walk away from it, which says something for his character. In fact even when, he even went one step further, look at verse 10 it's most interesting. He threw a kind of a party. It says, "It came to pass, as Jesus sat eating in the house," this is no doubt the house of Matthew, "many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples." Now he had a whole crowd of these people, and tax collectors and sinners basically ran around together. "And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with tax collectors and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that are well need not a physician, but they that are sick." Which was a very sarcastic statement, He was saying, you couldn't use Me because you think you're holy. "But go and learn what that means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice; for I am not come to call the righteous," like you, sarcastically, "but sinners to repentance." Now what is the setting here? And that's all we really want to note. Apparently, when Matthew decided to follow Jesus, he decided to throw a big feast, and the idea of the big feast was to illu...was to introduce his old friends to his new Master. And he did that. So I think Matthew must have been a good man, and he made a deep commitment. And he was willing to walk away from a very lucrative life, and he didn't walk away quietly he threw a feast to introduce his old friends to his new Master. I think Matthew was a modest man, I think he was modest because in reciting the many events of tremendous importance that he does throughout his record, he never makes a personal reference to himself, that is in the first person.

He always treats Matthew in a third person, the way he would treat any other individual and he gives no particular credit to himself for anything. He never even claims the authorship of this Gospel, anywhere in the entire Gospel. The reason we know that he wrote it is because all of the early manuscripts have his name attached to the title, and the unanimous affirmation of the early church fathers is that this was written by Matthew, it's just one of the most clear Books in terms of authorship in all the New Testament, everyone knew that Matthew wrote this. Now we don't know when he wrote it, he wrote it sometime between 5O and 7O A.D. sometime before the destruction of Jerusalem, we don't know when. We do know why he wrote it, and I can express that to you in a simple statement, this Gospel is written to rehearse the story of salvation and in that story to demonstrate the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the predicted Messiah, the King of the Jews who was rejected by His own people, who was accepted by the Gentiles and who someday will return to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is the Gospel, it is the story of the King who comes, the King who is rejected and the King who will return. That's the message of Matthew, very simple.

And let me just talk about those three major thrusts and flows of this particular record. First of all Matthew deals with the King revealed.

The first thing you notice in Matthew's Gospel is that Christ is presented as a King. There's just no question about it. The person of Jesus is painted in royal colors. His ancestry is traced from the royal line. His birth is dreaded by a rival king.

Wise men offer their royal gifts. His herald, John the Baptist declares that His Kingdom is at hand. Even in His temptation, you see the royalty of the person, because the temptation itself reaches a climax when He by Satan is offered the kingdoms of the world, and acknowledgment that He has a right to rule. His great message on the mount was the manifesto of the King setting forth the laws of the Kingdom. His miracles were His royal credentials. His parables were called the mysteries of the Kingdom. He was hailed as the son of David. Be claims the freedom to pay tribute to the kings of the earth for He Himself is a child of the King. He makes a royal entry into Jerusalem and claims sovereignty and tells concerning Himself the story of the marriage of a Kings Son. And while facing the cross He predicted His future reign.

He claimed to have dominion over the angels, so that He could have called a legion of them to His defense. His last words are a kingly claim and a royal command as He says, ..All authority hath been given unto me, go ye therefore." And so Matthew presents Him as a King. A King revealed. And then the Book takes on another character, the King rejected. And as we study the Gospel of Matthew we're going to see that the people to whom He came, and for whom He sought submission, never gave it, and He was a King rejected. Matthew was the Gospel of rejection. No other Gospel has so much to say about His Kingliness, and no other Gospel has so much to say about His rejection as King. The shadow of rejection is never lifted from the Gospel of Matthew. Before He was born, his mother was in danger of being rejected by Joseph. At His birth, Jerusalem was troubled and Herod sought His life. On the plains of Bethlehem no angel choir sings but mothers are weeping in anguish as their babies are being slaughtered. He was hurried away for His life to live thirty years in the obscurity of a little no-account village called Nazareth. His forerunner was put in a dungeon and finally beheaded. He had nowhere to lay His own head, His parables indicate that His Kingdom would not be accepted in this age, and even in His death He said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" No penitent thief is praying, no word of human sympathy is spoken, those who pass by revile and mock, and they hire soldiers to lie even about His resurrection.

In no Gospel is the attack upon Christ as bitter as it is in Matthew, from the beginning to the end. So the King is revealed and the king is rejected. But Matthew also presents the fact, that the King is returning, and no other Gospel lays such emphasis on the second coming as the Gospel of Matthew. And so in a sense it is a Gospel of triumph.

When you get to chapter 24 and 25 and you hear the fact that He will come in the clouds with great glory, you know that He'll ultimately reign. And so it's a Gospel of the revelation of a King, the rejection of the King, and the return of the King.

Excerpted from the Sermon: The Gracious King by John MacArthur

See Also:

The Gospel of Matthew - An Introduction
Matthew is a Jewish Christian Gospel. It was written by a Jew, of course, as three of the four Gospels were, but unlike the others it seems to have been written for a largely Jewish Christian readership.

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