A Look at the Cross: Matthew
Like a stained glass window, the cross is one event bathed in multiple colors. The authors of scripture each put their own tint to it. Though they all saw the same thing (or talked to people who had), each added their own flavor to the mix.
Matthew, the Jewish Tax-Collector, colored his with the Kingdom. Subtly so as not to over power the entire event, he mixed in a kingdom story fit for the arrival of a King.
The Ancestral line of the King. It started with the genealogy in chapter 1. The first thing Matthew pens links Jesus to David and every Jew knew the implications that brought. Not only in his words does Matthew connect the two, but in his structure. The genealogy depicts 14 generations from Abraham to David, from David to the Exile, and the Exile to Jesus (1.17). There were more people in those lines, but Matthew was communicating more than just a historical lineage. Hebrew uses letters as numbers as well, so the letters that make up David’s name in Hebrew, D-W-D, also represent the numbers 4-6-4 which equal 14. Matthew was sure to show a Davidic connection to Jesus.
The Visitors of the King. The Magi had come from far off (2.1) following a cosmic event (2.2). It wasn’t uncommon for people to connect the birth of a King with a celestial event in the Ancient Near East. Luke places lowly shepherds at the birth; Matthew has wisemen bringing treasures fit for a King.
The Kingdom of the King. In Jesus first address, he lays out how the Kingdom that he is bringing will run (Matthew 5-7). He is instituting a new way to live. “You have heard it said…but I tell you” is the way he frames his message. Forgiveness, anger, adultery, lust, retribution, love, charity, money, worry, judging…it’s like he is reading my email. The new kingdom is going to an upside down way of living, but it is strangely appealing.
The Power of the King. Jesus can heal the leper (8.1ff), a servant far off (8.5ff.), unnamed multitudes (8.14), demon-possessed men (8.28), a paralytic (9.1ff), a dead girl (9.18ff), a sick woman (9.18ff), the blind and the mute (9.27; 9.32). Oh yeah he can also calm the storm (8.23). His disciples asked the question: “What kind of man is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (8.27) They soon would be imparted with some of the power they witnessed (10.1).
The Arrival of the King’s Kingdom. When his disciples were sent out to preach, they were to take a simple message to the people. No three points and a poem, no alliteration or extended out line, but a simple quote: “The Kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 10.7) It isn’t a new message in the book. John proclaimed it in Matthew 3. It was his go to sermon. Jesus preached his first sermon in Matthew on the subject. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (4.17). Now he gives it to them to proclaim among the people.
The Identity of the King and His Kingdom. The quote from Isaiah opens up the discussion on Jesus true Identity. He is “God’s servant” (12.18) but the verdict of the people is still out on him. Some say he is the Son of David but other’s think he is the prince of demons (12.23-24). They want to see a sign that will show him to be who he really is (12.38ff.) but the King doesn’t have to answer to them. The sign will be there soon enough.
The Pictures of the Kingdom. What will this kingdom be like? Castles and armies and power and fortune? It will be like a harvest, a mustard seed, yeast, a treasure, a pearl, a net, a banquet…its more than you might think. Jesus tells them the parables, the secrets of the kingdom, so that those will willing hearts and hearing ears will understand. It’s like a vineyard, or a forgiving King, or ten waiting women. The stories hit home with some, yet with others, they only cloud the picture of what they thought the Kingdom would be.
Entrance and status in the Kingdom. Only more disheartening to the religious elite than what the kingdom will be, is who will gain entrance. It isn’t the rich young man (19.16) and it isn’t the greatest and best. It is the little children who will enter (19.13) and the ones who labored no matter what time they arrived (20.16). The kingdom belongs to those who’s hearts are ready, not the ones who know the right things to say (21.31). Its the tax collectors and prostitutes…really? The chosen ones (22.14) seem to be the wrong ones…
The Kingdom theme in Matthew’s book is punctuated at the Cross. The color that Matthew shines on the cross is the purple of royalty. Matthew 27.27ff says:
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
The other gospels record the flogging and the beating that Jesus recieved, but only Matthew frames it in a mock coronation. The others record the robe and the crown of thorns, but only Matthew places a fake staff in his hand.
The soldiers mock the vanquished King. Jesus entered Jerusalem a week earlier as Messiah, the one who would come and deliver his people, and now the same voices are asking for his death. Why? Because the King that we wanted was not the King that we got. Jesus was the King of the Jews, but he wasn’t the type of King that would overthrow the Romans, rule from a throne, or save the people from their subjugation. Instead he would overcome death, rule from heaven, and save the people from their sins. Back in the Old Testament, the Hebrews desperately wanted a king to be like other nations (1 Samuel 8.19-20), but what they didn’t understand was the king they wanted was not the king they needed. How often do we look at the world and think to ourselves “how nice would it be to have that or be that or do that?” Jesus was killed because he wasn’t the King we wanted…but he is all that we ever need.