Friday, February 26, 2010

The Tax-Collector's Gospel

It is some accident of history, if such are the narratives you believe in, that the first gospel of Jesus Christ is the one attributed to one Matthew, a tax-collector by profession. About thirteen years ago, I remember preaching about what this Matthew said about what his master said not. Here is what I found when I was reading up for it:

By taking a quick look at the verses which are designated to be Matthew 5:17, 9:13, 10:34, and 20:28, we learn that Jesus’ own words tell us about why He did not come, before he tells us why He did.
  • “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”
  • “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
  • “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
  • “...the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”
If you read these lines, and the context in which Matthew embedded them, the conclusion is inescapable. The Jesus many Christians think about is not the Jesus that the Christian Bible actually says he is. You have to tread very carefully indeed, to avoid the many traps that a person might fall into while making odd claims about Jesus.

For Matthew was a tax-collector, a professional at the art of extracting coinage from those who sought to hide it. He knew what words meant, and kept his meaning plain. If you trust the integrity of his text, you should read Matthew 10 before you talk about the Great Commission (a phrase not found in the original text) or anything else which might stir you to action in the world around you.

Thirteen years later, I have to remind myself about such things again.

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