It is a real joy for me to lend my blog over the next few days to extracts from my friend Phil Moore’s new series of books that aim to get “Straight to the Heart” of the Bible’s message. I commended these books as follows:
Want to understand the Bible better? Don’t have the time or energy to read complicated commentaries? The book you have in your hand could be the answer. Allow Phil Moore to explain and then apply God’s message to your life. Think of this book as the Bible’s message distilled for everyone.
This first post comes from the introduction to Matthew:
Jesus of Nazareth sparked a massive revolution. A lot of people miss that fact. They are so used to the long-haired, blue-eyed, white-robed storybook Jesus that they imagine he was about as tame and domesticated as many of his churches today. But he wasn’t. Jesus was a radical, dangerous revolutionary who made big waves and powerful enemies. He was not killed for preaching pithy parables, but because he claimed to be King.
Jesus chose an incendiary word to announce his Revolution. The word kingdom has lost its edge in our world of democratic republics and constitutional monarchies, but in the first-century Roman Empire it was explosive. That was a world where kings could execute their enemies without a trial and slaughter hundreds of babies on a whim. It was a world where kings brooked no rival and where sedition was quickly silenced. It was a world where few messages were more dangerous than the claim that “the kingdom of heaven is near.” If Jesus was King, then it meant that Caesar was not. This was inflammatory talk of the highest order.
After three years, Jesus was arrested and put on trial for his life. He stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin, before Herod and before Governor Pilate, who was the Roman Emperor’s man in Palestine. He was accused of treason because he claimed to be King, and his enemies insisted that “anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” He was tortured and crucified under the charge that he was “the King of the Jews,” and when he died his tomb was guarded by a group of Roman soldiers. Scoreline: the Roman Emperor one, Jesus of Nazareth nil. The King of the Jews was dead and the Revolution was over.
Well, not exactly. In fact, not at all. Three days later the corpse disappeared and rumours began to spread that he had been raised back to life. What was more, his followers began to preach that his death had not only failed to prevent the revolution, it had somehow always been part of the plan through which he would bring it to pass. Within a generation, the Jewish state was dead but their King had spread his rule across the Roman Empire. Within three centuries, even the Roman Emperor himself worshipped at Jesus’ feet and proclaimed him King of kings. Now, two thousand years later, he is still by far the most loved, most worshipped, most followed and most obeyed person in the world. Google his name and you will find 170 million websites to visit. Type his name into Amazon.com and you can choose from 405,000 books about him. Search in any western town or village and you will find a church that bears his name. The end of the Revolution? No, just the beginning.
Matthew was one of Jesus’ original twelve followers. He had once been an eager employee of the Roman Empire, but when he heard Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God he quickly deserted Emperor Tiberius to follow King Jesus. Matthew invested his life in Jesus’ Revolution, and he wants us to do the same. That is why he wrote his gospel.
Matthew wrote the fullest and most systematic account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He groups his material by theme rather than by strict chronology, because he wants us to respond to five central acts in the drama of King Jesus. He uses the Greek word basileia, or kingdom, 56 times in his 28 chapters, stressing the revolutionary call of Jesus the King and of his Kingdom. He divides each of his five acts into Jesus’ words and Jesus’ deeds, so that we will not mistake Jesus for a mere lecturer in religious philosophy, but grasp that he is the-King-on-a-Mission and that he wants to enlist us as his willing followers. Matthew’s structure is:
Chapters 1-4 Prologue: The Coming of the Kingdom
Chapters 5-9 Act One: Kingdom Lifestyle (Words in chapters 5-7, Deeds in chapters 8-9)
Chapters 10-12 Act Two: Kingdom Mission (Words in chapter 10, Deeds in chapters 11-12)
Chapters 13-17 Act Three: Kingdom Message (Words in chapter 13, Deeds in chapters 14-17)
Chapters 18-22 Act Four: Kingdom Community (Words in chapter 18, Deeds in chapters 19-22)
Chapters 23-27 Act Five: Kingdom Judgment (Words in chapters 23-25, Deeds in chapters 26-27)
Chapter 28 Epilogue: The Proclamation of the Kingdom
Matthew’s gospel is a revolutionary pamphlet, which shook the ancient world and still shakes the world today. A few years ago, I took a sleeper train across western China as part of a backpacking holiday, and fell into conversation with an old man and his son, who spoke good English. When I felt the time was right, I reached into my bag and offered them a Chinese Bible which I had smuggled into the country. The old man caught sight of it and held it in his hands like a prized jewel. “Where did you get this book?!” he demanded, before telling me his story. His father had been an itinerant evangelist during the great upheavals of the 1960s. One day, the communists had discovered that he was preaching the Gospel. They confiscated his Bibles, took him to a prison camp and ordered him to recant his faith. The old man – still a bewildered young boy when the soldiers came – told me that he had never seen his father again. He and his mother had been blacklisted by the local party officials, and he had grown up in gruelling poverty because his father proclaimed that Jesus was King and therefore Mao Zedong wasn’t. I shall never forget the look on that old Chinese man’s face as he was reunited with a Bible after forty years apart. His face reminds me that Jesus of Nazareth is a dangerous revolutionary who demands that we give up our whole lives to follow him, and no one else.
I have written this book to take you on a tour of Matthew’s gospel and to bring you face to face with Jesus as Matthew knew him. It doesn’t aim to cover every verse, but I pray that its sixty short chapters will draw you deeper into God’s Kingdom and the radical message of King Jesus.
Get ready for an adventure with Jesus Christ. The Revolution has begun.