This is the first of a four part series of posts in whichÂ David Williams shares some historical and theological observations on the Bible passages studied at the Urbana Student Missions Conference 2015. The passages under consideration areÂ Matthew 8:1-17, Matthew 20:1-16, Matthew 25:31-26, Matthew 27:57-28:15. In follow-up David will post stories of how the Gospel is being lived out on campus. We’d also love to hear how these texts speak to yourÂ campus context and next steps you’ll take as youÂ share the Good News (in word and action as part of the people of God).
If you’re at Urbana15, let’s be sure to connectÂ today’s . . .
- 2 pm Seminar: The Secular Academy as a Mission FieldÂ (The America’s Center, 100-101)
- 9:30 pmÂ Reception in the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) /Â Graduate & Faculty MinistriesÂ (GFM)Â lounge
AND this week’s
- ESN/GFM booth (626/628)
- ESN/GFMÂ lounge (Drury Inn & Suites, Broadway Room)
Thank-you to David for contributing to the ESN blogÂ at Urbana15. To God be the glory! ~Â Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network
Matthew 8:1-17: Jesus: Lord & Servant
Who was Jesus? Indeed, who is Jesus? Every detail of Matthewâ€™s Gospel, whether subtle or unsubtle, is aimed at answering those two questions. Matthew is a master storyteller, and his Gospel is an intricate literary tapestry into which the evangelist has interwoven multiple overlapping patterns. By tracing out the threads of these various patterns, the attentive reader may follow Matthew into a fuller, richer vision of Jesusâ€™s identity and significance.
Whether one is reading the Gospel of Matthew or the story of Israelâ€™s exodus from Egypt, either way the story begins with the narrative of Israelâ€™s deliverer being born (Matt 1:18â€”25/Exod 2:1-2) during the reign of a wicked king (Matt 2:1-15/Exod 1:8-14). The wicked king then, in order to head-off any threat to his throne, orders the slaughter of Israelâ€™s newborn sons (Matt 2:16/Exod 1:15-22), but Israelâ€™s deliverer survives. Eventually he escapes Egypt such that the prophets could say of him, â€œOut of Egypt I called my sonâ€ (Matt 2:14/Exod 12-15/Hosea 11). Moreover, our hero passes through waters (Matt 3:13-17/Exod 14:21-31) before embarking on a long journey in the wilderness (Matt 4:1/15:22ff) where he is tested by hunger and the false promises of idolatry (Matt 4:3-10/Exod 16:2-8; 32), and where he fasts for forty days and nights (Matt 4:2/Deut 9:9). Israelâ€™s deliverer goes up on a mountain (Matt 5:9/Exod 19) and through him Godâ€™s people receive Godâ€™s commandments (Matt 5-7/Exod 20-23). Matthew has carefully woven into the opening chapters of his retelling of Jesusâ€™s life story the patterns of both Israelâ€™s exodus and Mosesâ€™s biography, subtly depicting Jesus as being simultaneously a new Moses and the embodiment of Israel, initiating a new exodus for the people of God.
Thus, when, in the very first verse of this morningâ€™s Bible study passage, Matthew says that Jesus, having delivered Godâ€™s commands to Godâ€™s people, â€œcame down from the mountainâ€ (Matt 8:1; cf. Exod 34:29), he is continuing a well-established narrative pattern depicting Jesus as being the prophet like Moses that God had promised to his people many long centuries ago:
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19 ESV)
This slender thread, when seen in the light of Matthewâ€™s careful narrative framing, portrays Jesus as the new Moses, as the new lawgiver, as one imbued with a degree of divine authority not seen since Sinai.
A second literary pattern featured in our passage is to be found in the ways the various figures in Matthewâ€™s narrative address Jesus. Note that both the leper and the centurion address Jesus as â€œLordâ€ (kurios). The Catholic New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson points out that in Markâ€™s Gospel practically everyone addresses Jesus as â€œteacherâ€ (whether as rabbi or didaskalos; Mark 4:38; 9:17, 38; 10:17-31,35; 12:14, 19, 32; 13:1), excepting only the afflicted who regularly address Jesus as â€œLordâ€ (kurios). In Matthewâ€™s Gospel, however, the pattern is different: Only Jesusâ€™s opponents and those who fail to follow Him refer to him as â€œteacherâ€ (e.g., 8:19; 12:38; 22:16, 36; 17:24; 22:24; 19:16). Conversely, Jesusâ€™s disciples and those who are coming to follow Jesus never refer to Jesus as â€œteacherâ€ in Matthewâ€™s Gospel, but instead exclusively address Him as â€œLordâ€ (kurios; 8:2, 6, 8, 25; 9:28; 14:28; 15:22, 25, 27; 16:22; 17:4, 15; 18:21; 20:30). This pattern is seen most clearly in Matthew 26:20-25, when at the Last Supper the Twelve respond to Jesusâ€™s assertion that, â€œTruly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.â€ While the rest of the disciples ask, â€œIs it I, Lord?,â€ Judas asks, â€œIs it I, Rabbi?â€
Thus, when the leper and the centurion address Jesus as â€œLordâ€ in Matthew chapter 8, they contribute to a larger point that Matthew is making, namely, that Jesus is no mere â€œteacher.â€ He is â€œthe Lord,â€ Emmanuel, â€œGod with us.â€ To attempt to see Jesus as just another rabbi or teacher alongside other rabbis or teachers is to misunderstand Him entirely.
This point seems to be grasped most clearly (and most surprisingly!) by the centurion, who does not think of Jesusâ€™s ability to heal his suffering servant as mere medical or magical skill, but rather as a sort of supernatural authority. The centurion is confident that the Lord has only to say the word, and it will be done. The point is driven home by a striking echo of the Septuagintâ€™s Greek translation of the creation account in Genesis 1: The Creator God speaks the cosmos into being in the jussive voice, first decreeing â€œLet there be lightâ€ (genetheto phÅs), â€œandâ€ (kai), the narrator tells us, whatever God spoke was so. So, too, Jesus responds to the centurionâ€™s request in the jussive voice, â€œlet it be doneâ€ (genetheto), â€œandâ€ (kai), Matthew tells us, it was so. Jesus, in short, speaks with the authoritative voice that speaks all things into being.
But power and authority are not all that there is to Jesus, a fact brought out by the third and final Matthean pattern featured in this passage.Â Characteristic of Matthewâ€™s Gospel are his ten formulaic â€œfulfillmentâ€ quotations of Old Testament texts (1:22-23; 2:15, 17-18, 23; 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; 21:4-5; 27:9).Â These quotations link events in Jesusâ€™s life to passages from Israelâ€™s Scriptures, typically taking the form of â€œThis-or-that took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet when he said â€˜Such-and-suchâ€™.â€
Our passage closes with Jesus first relieving Peterâ€™s mother-in-law of a fever and then subsequently healing multitudes of the sick and the bedeviled. Here Matthew interprets Jesusâ€™s healings with one of his â€œfulfillmentâ€ quotations: â€œThis was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: â€˜He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.â€™â€ (2:17) Whereas the remainder of the passage has served to underscore Jesusâ€™s power and authority, identifying Him with the prophet like Moses and even with the Lord Himself, Matthewâ€™s quotation of Isaiah 53:4 identifies Jesus with a very different figure indeed, one identified with the weak and the powerless, namely, Isaiahâ€™s figure of the Suffering Servant. For Matthew Jesus is not simply the new Moses, the new law-giver sent to initiate a new exodus. Nor is He simply the embodiment of Israelâ€™s Lordâ€”Emmanuel, â€œGod with usâ€â€”authoritatively speaking into being things that are not. He is also the one who â€œwas wounded for our transgressions,â€ â€œcrushed for our iniquities,â€ and by whose â€œstripes we are healed.â€
About the author:
David Williams serves part-time as an InterVarsity/Link staff on loan to the Oxford Pastorate, an independent evangelical chaplaincy that ministers to graduate students at the University of Oxford. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in Christian Ethics at the University of Oxford, writing on Friedrich Schleiermacherâ€™s, John Henry Newmanâ€™s, and Abraham Kuyperâ€™s divergent theologies of higher education and their potential applications to the modern research university. Before moving to England, David served for five years with InterVarsityâ€™s Graduate & Faculty ministries at New York University. David resides in Oxford, England with his wife Alissa and son Charlie.